New Delhi: The agriculture ministry has forwarded a final proposal to modify the definition of basmati to the ministry of commerce, which is yet to take a decision on the notification.
The controversial definition of basmati has been going back and forth between the ministries for more than a year. The rice export industry is also divided on the matter as the expansion of the definition will accommodate more varieties of rice under the coveted basmati name.
The new definition, unlike the current one, proposes to base the definition of the rice variety on its attributes rather than on its genetic lineage. Vinod Prabhu, head of genetics, Indian Agricultural Research Institute (ICAR), which was involved in framing the new definition, argues that this change does not loosen the basmati stronghold.
Apart from the genetics, another issue with the definition of basmati is about the area in which it is grown
“Attributes are inherent, which are inherited genetically,” he said. “They cannot be created from anywhere. Genetics is not invisible, it is the phenotype (physical manifestation of traits). And, the environment in which they are nurtured are equally important vis-a-vis genetics, which is why the need to specify the area in which basmati is grown.”
Apart from the genetics, another controversial issue with the definition is what should be the area in which basmati is grown. According to the proposed change, “The variety should be suitable to be grown in the Indo-Gangetic plains of India within the specified regions of geographical indication (GI) of basmati growing areas specifically recommended for cultivation, for its denomination as a basmati variety (comprising Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand, western UP, Delhi and Jammu).”
However, the area which will be demarcated as the GI region is not clear yet. Prabhu added that GI is a trade issue and ICAR cannot decide that.
“The biggest issue is where do you draw the line of demarcation for basmati? And, who will do that. Right now, it is vague and it leaves room for other varieties to claim the basmati name,” said a rice exporter, who did not want to be identified.
Basmati, like Pashmina and champagne, can be attributed only to a certain region of the world. Basmati has been threatened before by patents from other countries, which were later defeated.
Vijay Setia, president of All India Rice Exporters Association, declined to comment on the matter as the association is yet to receive the proposal. The ministry of commerce is awaiting comments on the matter before it officially notifies the changes.