Granting Geographical Indication Tag To ‘Temple Prasadam’: Violation Of The Law Of Land? (Part II)

This is the 2nd Part of the two-part blog which discusses the issues that arose as a result of granting the Geographical Indication Tag to the sacred Prasadam of the Tirupati Temple. In this blog the author has discussed about the criticisms of GI Tag and throws light on how the granting of such GI Tags violates the law in force.

Part I of the blog had dealt with the history and background of the Tirupati Laddu, the granting of GI Tag to the Laddu and the issues that emerged thereof.

Just two weeks after the laddu was granted GI Tag, in October 2009, J Mohanraj, then General Secretary of Jebamani Janata Party filed a PIL in the Madras High Court defining the act as exemplary of commercialization of divine affairs. The main grounds challenged in the petition were that religious symbols could not be monopolized by private entities and along with that the petitioner also argued that such grants contravened.

Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India. The Madras High Court rejected the petition contending that alternate remedy of rectification had not been exhausted, that being the most appropriate route in this case. The GI Act, 1999 provides for two forums for rectification of a registered GI namely, the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB), New Delhi and the Registrar of Geographical Indications, Chennai, hence, leading to the dismissal of the petition.

Following this, R. S. Praveen Raj, a scientist working with the National Institute for Interdisciplinary Science and Technology (NIIST), Thiruvananthapuram and former Examiner of Patents and Designs at the Chennai branch of the Patent Office, wrote a letter to the Supreme Court objecting to the same and requested that the letter should be treated as a writ petition. However, the petition was dismissed on the grounds of an existing alternative and efficacious forum, directing the petitioner to approach the latter following which Mr. Praveen Raj filed a petition before the GI Registry, Chennai. He stated in his petition that the granting of the GI tag to Tirupati Laddu violated Articles 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution and Sections 9(a), 9(d) and 11 of the GI Act, 1999. The petition contained that

“Allowing GI Tag for goods produced by private entities would defeat the essence of GI protection, which is meant for protecting, safeguarding and promoting collective community rights and moreover, the GI tag on Tirupati Laddu passes a false message to the public that temple Prasadams are similar to industrial goods.” Although on July 30, 2012, this rectification petition was dismissed stating that the applicant was not able to establish his locus standi to institute the rectification  proceedings against the TTD and the registrar  held that the applicant was not the aggrieved party under section 27(1) of the GI Act, 1999 and thus cannot bring a rectification application challenging the registration.

Furthermore, no GI application could be approved if it hurts the religious sentiments of the citizens. According to Section 9(d) of the GI Act, 1999, “A Geographical Indication which comprises or contains any matter likely to hurt the religious susceptibilities of any class or section of the citizens of India shall not be registered.” This statutory mandate was clearly ignored before granting GI to Tirupati Laddu and many critics argued that calling the sacred Prasadam as commercial Goods will hurt the sentiments of millions of devotees of Lord Venkateswara. TTD’s back breaking and money draining effort to obtain monopoly over the production and sale of the sacred laddu is seen as an attempt to exchange the religious beliefs of the devotees for cash.

Furthermore, section 2(1) (f) of the GI Act, 1999 describes ‘goods’ as, “any agricultural, natural or manufactured goods or any goods of handicraft or of industry and includes food stuff.” It is very much evident from the Act that it concerns only commercially viable products. Labeling these laddus as manufactured or commercial goods will hurt the religious sentiments of millions of people for whom this laddu is a symbol of divine blessing and sanctity.

GI TAG TO ANOTHER TEMPLE PRASADAM

 Palani Panchamirtham is yet another temple Prasadam that has been assigned the status of a GI. This Prasadam is offered in the Arulmigu Dhandayuthapani Swamy Temple located in the Palani town of Dindigul district of Tamil Nadu which is more popularly known as the Palani Temple.

The application for the GI tag was given by the Joint Commissioner of Arulmigu Dhandayuthapani Swamy Temple in June 2016 and on February 5, 2019 it was designated with a GI Tag.

The Palani Panchamirtham is made by combining in a prescribed proportion five natural substances namely banana, cow ghee, cardamom, jaggery and honey and which is why the ‘Pancha’, meaning five, comes in the name and on the other hand, ‘Amirtham’ translates from Tamil to delicacy. Traditionally, Tamils living in hilly areas called ‘Kurinji’ land offered banana, honey, milk and milk products and cardamom to God as an expression of gratitude and with passage of time, they began to make some mixture of these ingredients in some definite proportion, and it came to be known as the Panchamirtham.

Fascinatingly, the geographical area for production of Palani Panchamirtham is not just restricted to the temple, but the entire Palani town in Dindigul district of Tamil Nadu which makes it still better suited to qualify as a GI as compared to the Tirupati Laddu whose production is limited only to the temple premises.

CONCLUSION

 GI has been a boon to people around the world, especially the marginalized and poor craftsmen, weavers and artisans who put in their greatest efforts to maintain such quality that is known and retained worldwide, and the GI tag helps to maintain the essence and originality of their products. The GI designation to the Tirupati Laddu violates the rights of more than 600 workers who work hard each and every day to make thousands of laddus as TTD is the sole profit earning entity and the workers’ community is being benefited in no way. In my opinion, two major reasons to oppose this GI are firstly, it hampers the religious beliefs of millions of devotees and secondly, the laddu is not specific to a particular geographical region. The laddu’s geographical region is not Tirupati, because nowhere in Tirupati town these laddus are made except in temple and to be precise, not even in the temple, but just the kitchen of the temple. A GI which is intended for a bigger geographical area cannot be kept limited to a very tiny bit of the temple. Being a secular country, it is the responsibility of the state to ensure that none of the provisions of the law in force hamper the religious beliefs of any sect of the society.

A signficant debate also arises whether such exchange of beliefs for cash violates the freedom of religion granted under Articles 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution. Such grant of GI will also provoke other similar religious trusts to obtain GI for their unique sacred offerings. Say for instance, Sri Krishna Temple near Alleppey, Kerala offering sacred ‘Palpayasam’ (Sweet porridge prepared from ghee, rice and milk) and similarly Sabrimala Temple known for the famous ‘Aravana Payasam’ (Porridge made using milk, jiggery, ghee, rice, nuts, etc.) and ‘Appam’ might as well follow the footsteps of TTD and Palani Temple and will soon demand for a GI Tag for their Prasadams. Greater vigilance measures should be followed by the authorities so that GI continues to remain a valuable means for safeguarding the rights of marginalized communities. If the GI Registry authorities do not adopt stricter parameters for granting GI status, it would soon reduce its importance as an instrument of IPR.

Author: Rushika Bakshi – an intern at Khurana & Khurana, Advocates and IP Attorney,  in case of any queries please contact/write back to us via email vidushi@khuranaandkhurana.com

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