Whether farmers in certain districts in Madhya Pradesh would be able to call the aromatic rice that they grow as basmati or not would depend on the outcome of a petition being heard in the Madras High Court from Monday.
The Madhya Pradesh government recently filed a petition challenging the March 15 order of the Assistant Registrar of Geographical Indications (GI) which denied the GI tag to the aromatic rice grown in Madhya Pradesh.
In its plea that would come up before a division bench comprising Justices R Subbiah and PD Audikesavalu, the State argued that the order “relied on an extraneous and non-statutory metric such as popular perception to dismiss the case for GI tag.”
The GI status is currently available only to basmati grown in Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and parts of western Uttar Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir.
Madhya Pradesh, which has sizeable basmati cultivation, approached the Madras High Court a few years ago for extending the GI tag to the aromatic rice grown in the State.
Basmati is a ₹35,000-crore industry in the country that produces roughly 60 lakh tonnes of the aromatic rice, of which 40 lakh tonnes is currently exported.
As per its petition, there are around 80,000 farmers particularly in districts like Raisen and Vidisha who have been growing the rice for several decades. The denial of the GI tag would mean these farmers would not be able to sell the produce as basmati, leading to lesser income for them.
Recently, the State government claimed 50 per cent of basmati rice imported by the US and Canada goes from Madhya Pradesh.
According to an industry source, quality of the basmati rice grown in many parts of the State is better than its Haryana counterpart, which has been granted the GI tag. “Thanks to better soil conditions and higher rainfall, the grains of same basmati variety are almost one mm longer than that grown in Haryana and they retain similar aroma,” he said.
According to Subhash Chandra Ahuja, a retired professor from the Haryana Agricultural University, it was wrong to say that basmati wasn’t traditionally grown in Madhya Pradesh.
“There are records of basmati being grown even during Mughal emperor Akbar’s time in the Malwah region of Madhya Pradesh. There is reference to show this in Ain-i-Akbari, the 16th century Persian volume which records the administration during Akbar’s time. A reliable source indicated that the State government may use this as an evidence to argue its case.
Vijay Setia, President, All India Rice Exporters Association, said basmati grown in Madhya Pradesh cannot be given the GI tag as there was an international agreement that restricts the tag to 17 districts in Punjab and seven States in India.