India: Who Owns The Rasogulla Or Rossogullas?

INTRODUCTION:

The concept of intellectual property rights while gaining importance in the society is also creator of many disputes which in most near past nobody had heard about. The things which we thought are only for enjoyment of masses nowadays are the subject of legal disputes although it does not mean that the right holder should not get it dues and should not be allowed to reap the benefits out of its intellect he puts in to create something which is not only unique but also an integral part of life of the masses.

The recent row over who invented the mouth watering "Rasogulla" compels us to look into the legal position of Geographical Indications in India. The battle between the two neighbours West Bengal and Odisha over the flavorsome sweet developed after the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) department of the Odisha government started off a move to get Geographical Indication (GI) status, (which identifies a product as originating from a certain location and assures its distinctive quality) for the famous Pahala Rasagola, the stuff made at Pahala village located midway between Bhubaneswar and Cuttack on the National Highway No 5. On the other hand, the great grandson of legendary Nobin Chandra Das, Mr. Dhiman who is also the executive director of renowned KC Das Pvt. Ltd claimed that the heavenly sweet "Rasogullas" was invented by his ancestors. He further said that he would welcome any move by the Odisha government to find out the truth as he has all the documents to substantiate his assertion. However, whether this fact that the department of Odisha government has in reality moved to get this sweetmeat registered is still in clouds. The answer to this question that which state will be able to register delectable "Rasogullas" with Geographical Indication Registry of India that only time will tell. Meanwhile, let us try to see whether one of the common sweet of India can be monopolized by either of these states.

WILL RASOGULLA BE ABLE TO SATISFY THE CRITERIA FOR REGISTRATION?

According to the Section 2(e) of The Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration & Protection) Act, 1999 "geographical indication" in relation to goods, means an indication which identifies such goods as agricultural goods, natural goods or manufactured goods as originating, or manufactured in the territory of a country, or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristics of such goods is essentially attributable to its geographical origin and in case where such goods are manufactured goods one of the activities of either the production or of processing or preparation of the goods concerned take place in such territory, region or locality, as the case may be. As per the explanation, any name which is not the name of the country, region or locality of that country shall also be considered as the geographical indication if it relates to a specific geographical area and is used upon or in relation to particular goods originating from that country, region or locality, as the case may be.1

Section 2(f) The Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration & Protection) Act, 1999 defines "goods" as any agricultural, natural or manufactured goods or any goods of handicraft or of industry and includes food stuff. For registration of Rasogulla as a GI will require certain things. Now let us ask this question to ourselves, whenever we enjoy this sweetmeat do we get connected to Odisha, or for that matter West Bengal. The Rasogullas which are available at almost every confectionary or halwai shop of Delhi have become so common that we don't really get associated with the place from where it is claimed to be invented. Like for example when we talk about other GIs, like Nagpur Oranges, Pashmeena Shawls, Kolhapuri Chappals, Madhubani painting etc., we are able to connect ourselves to the place from where it belongs. In fact that is what one of the functions of GI Laws is. If we ask the same question about Rasogullas, the answer will not be one, as some people may say Bengali Rasogullas while others may take the name of Haldiram, Nathus Bikanerwala or sweetshops of Chandni Chowk. It shows that the word Rasogulla has become generic. An Indian consumer or a sweet lover identifies this delicious sweet as something which is available at every Halwai's shop. So if the public perception cannot connect this sweet to any of these states then how can it be registered under the GI Act? It is going to be really difficult for both the states to establish that how a person living in India or abroad gets connected to their state as soon as they see Rasogullas. The word Rasogullas has become very common like halwa, jalebi and ladoo. It is going to be really tedious to prove the geographical indication of Rasogulla before the GI Registry because of its common/generic nature. Any application to register the a generic word would be hit by Section 9(f ) of The Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration & Protection) Act, 1999 Act, which prohibits registration of generic names or indications of goods that are not protected or ceased to be protected, or which have fallen into disuse.

WHETHER THE CONTROVERSY IS ABOUT BENGALI RASOGULLA OR PAHALA RASOGULLA?

If the controversy is about the Pahala Rasogulla of Odisha, then the matter can be more comforting as these are different from the common Rasogulla which we find in every sweet shop of India. To be honest I have not tasted it yet but like some reports suggest that the Pahala Rasogullas are brown in colour, soft (not spongy) and not very sweet. And also due to their thin syrup they don't have a long shelf life and have to be consumed in Pahala shops itself. So if this is the matter, then there is not much into it which has to be debated. Off course the concerning department of Odisha Government have to comply with the provisions of The Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration & Protection) Act, 1999 Act to prove that the Pahala Rasogullas satisfies the necessary requirement for registration.

CONCLUSION

While concluding, we can say that why this move by Odisha government is a cause of concern for other confectionaries including renowned K C Das Pvt. Ltd. is precisely because of the fact that according to some news papers have reported that the Odisha Government has already moved the GI Registry of India for registration of "White Rasogullas". And as we know the effect of registration that if Odisha government is successful in getting Rasogullas's GI registered as belonging to their state no other confectionary will be able to call their sweetmeat as Rasogullas! Yes, that will be the case. So, the Rasogullas which are available at our arm's length will be shifted to Odisha! And only the registered proprietors and authorised users will be able to use the word "Rasogullas" for their product. In this regard I can only suggest one thing that by the time the controversy grows further and the authorities decides, let us relish our taste buds with two-three rasogullas as the victory or defeat of one over the other is not at all going to reduce the taste of the heavenly dessert.

Co-authored by Mansha, Student of Campus Law Centre, Faculty of Law New Delhi Final year

Footnotes

1 Section 2(f) of The Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration & Protection) Act, 1999

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