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Government to redefine basmati rice as patent claims hit exports

Government to redefine basmati rice as patent claims hit exports

New Delhi: The government is broadening the definition of basmati rice, which, while diluting its exclusivity, will provide a major boost to more exports of this popular variety of long-grained rice.

“Grains which have the genes of the attributes of basmati should be basmati. It has nothing to do with parents," says K.V. Prabhu, head of genetics, Indian Agricultural Research Institute.

The definition, being put together by the agriculture ministry, is critical, because the trademark of basmati enables it to command premium prices. At present, the definition, compiled in 2003, allows only pure lines of basmati and the next generation, with at least one pure line as a parent, to be dubbed basmati.

The move to redefine basmati has gathered urgency, especially for the commerce ministry, after India was involved in a trade spat with Pakistan, which served a legal notice last month seeking the ban of Indian Super Basmati. Islamabad has claimed that super basmati is a strain developed in Pakistan.

There have been discussions between the ministries of agriculture and commerce, both of whom have a history of disagreements on the subject. Commerce, which is the nodal ministry for promoting exports, had asked the agriculture ministry to notify super basmati after the authorities in Pakistan first raised objections last year.

The agriculture ministry, however, was of the view that since the strain of basmati was developed in Pakistan, it would not be in a position to notify it as an Indian variety. The commerce ministry overlooked these objections and went ahead and notified super basmati, allowing Indian rice traders to continue exports.

K.S. Mani, chairman, Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (Apeda), says: “Pakistan does not have any legal claim here. They don’t have a strong case at all. International agreements have been signed on this and we see no reason for stopping the export of ­basmati."

Though the differences between the two Indian ministries continue, a compromise is in the offing. This is because, independent of the concerns of the commerce ministry, the agriculture ministry has sought to rework the definition of basmati based on its genetic construct so that domestic farmers have the option of growing more strains of this variety of rice.

Since it will be much wider in scope and will be notified under the Seeds Act, 1966, the definition will also extend to super basmati, providing legitimacy to Indian exports.

Last month, the ministry sent letters to a host of agencies, including Apeda, seeking comments. According to officials in the ministry of agriculture, who did not wish to be identified, the notification is likely to be issued in the next fortnight.

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