The rosogolla row

In­di­ans love get­ting the Ge­o­graph­i­cal In­di­ca­tion tag for any­thing, but does it con­fer any spe­cial ben­e­fits?

Down to Earth - - COLUMN -

Nis the turn of to get its 15 sec­onds OW IT of fame. This spongy sweet­meat—made from per­fect spheres of a cross be­tween cot­tage cheese and cream cheese,that are dunked in sugar syrup—is now vy­ing for a Ge­o­graph­i­cal In­di­ca­tion (GI) tag and cre­at­ing quite a me­dia ruckus be­cause the ap­pli­ca­tion has come from Odisha and not Ben­gal,the state with which it is com­monly linked. Any­one who has ever eaten or bought the sweet from the zil­lions of Ben­gal sweet houses that dot In­dia’s culi­nary land­scape be­lieves it is a Ben­gali del­i­cacy.

But that, it turns out, is not quite true.The ac­cord­ing to a trea­cly over­dose of food history that is spread­ing across the me­dia space in news­pa­pers,web­sites and Twit­ter,orig­i­nated in neigh­bour­ing Odisha,in a lit­tle vil­lage called Pa­hala on the high­way be­tween Bhubaneswar and Cut­tack.Ap­par­ently,it was called

and was be­ing of­fered at the Ja­gan­nath Tem­ple in Puri since the 18th cen­tury, at least a cen­tury be­fore the leg­endary Nobin Chan­dra Das of Kolkata in­vented it.

Now, culi­nary history can be pretty fas­ci­nat­ing and I am as in­ter­ested as any epi­cu­rian in pick­ing up some nuggets on the ori­gins of cer­tain dishes. But frankly, the sud­den pas­sion of the Odiyas for stak­ing their claim to the is puz­zling. It was sparked by a move ini­ti­ated by the Mi­cro, Small and Medium En­ter­prises (msme) depart­ment of the Odisha gov­ern­ment to get a GI tag for this sweet. A GI is an in­tel­lec­tual property right (ipr), some­what akin to a brand name, that is granted to a prod­uct be­cause of its ge­o­graph­i­cal unique­ness.

GI prod­ucts al­ways carry the name of the place from where they orig­i­nate, be­cause agri­cul­tural items in par­tic­u­lar have qual­i­ties that de­rive from their place of pro­duc­tion and are in­flu­enced by lo­cal fac­tors,such as cli­mate, soil and wa­ter.Hence,the name,cham­pagne,for the bub­bly that is made ex­clu­sively from grapes grown in the Cham­pagne re­gion of France. Or Scotch whiskey that is made in Scot­land us­ing only the clear­est and purest wa­ter from its and rivers. Or our own Dar­jeel­ing tea that comes from,of course,Dar­jeel­ing.The GI is a com­mu­nity shared ben­e­fit that aims to pro­tect and ex­pand mar­kets glob­ally.

French makers of cham­pagne and Scot­tish pro­duc­ers of Scotch do not want im­i­ta­tors in In­dia or else­where call­ing their wares by ei­ther of th­ese pro­tected GI tags. Nor are Dar­jeel­ing tea grow­ers likely to be will­ing to let tea gar­dens in Sri Lanka,for in­stance,to pass off their prod­uct as Dar­jeel­ing. But why are In­di­ans de­ter­mined to get the GI tag for a crazy as­sort­ment of items, rang­ing from wet grinder (made in prac­ti­cally ev­ery nook and cor­ner of south In­dia), jas­mines grown in var­i­ous dis­tricts, or for ubiq­ui­tous food items such as and Each re­gion, city or vil­lage has its own vari­ant of such prod­ucts but In­dia be­ing what it is, th­ese pop­u­lar items are made and sold every­where and are un­likely to get any mar­ket lever­age just be­cause there is a GI tag at­tached to it. At least in food items,there is not the slight­est in­di­ca­tion that do­mes­tic mar­kets—hardly any of the prod­ucts are be­ing ex­ported—have ex­panded be­cause of a GI la­bel.

The Ge­o­graph­i­cal In­di­ca­tion Registry in Chennai has so far handed out 236 GIs,many of them on ques­tion­able grounds.For the most part,GIs are seen as an end in them­selves and state gov­ern­ments have done noth­ing much to pro­mote the prod­ucts or to help the com­mu­ni­ties cap­i­talise on this ad­van­tage. My neigh­bour­hood Ben­gali shop makes a su­perb

and has no dearth of pa­trons. They have hardly heard of GIs or Pa­hala and are not likely to care.


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