19 May 2019
GI for Tirupathi Laddu: Whose Interests are Protected?
Original Date of Publication: March 16th, 2010
The Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanams (TTD) trustees of world’ richest temple on Tirumala Hills secured Geographical Indication (GI) Registration for sacred Laddu Prasadam, from Indian Patent Office, Chennai, recently, raising many eyebrows. It is criticized as its latest manifestation of brazen commercialization of divine abode. Ironically, sacred Tirupathi Laddu now joins the company of goods like Darjeeling Tea, Goa Feni, and Champagne wine etc. What hurts devotees is the way Prasadam is reduced to a commercial product.
What is GI?
The Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration & Protection) Act, 1999 has been made to secure the interests of producers of unique products drawing specific quality from that particular region, and to protect consumers from deception. The term GI refers to any indication that identifies goods as originating from a particular place, where a given quality, reputation or particular characteristic of the goods is essentially attributable to its geographical origin. Examples: Columbian Coffee, Darjeeling tea, Champagne wine and Bordeaux cheese. Registered GI with distinctive signs helps artisans, weavers and others from onslaught of corporate competition using the name of geographical origin. GI secures consumers from the confusion of counterfeits and artisans from undue competition. Unique quality arising out of that place coupled with the skill of artisans fetches the premium price. While patents and copyrights belong to individuals, the GI is a collective right of community protected either by their group or state, helping artists and artisans to survive. In collective right, the knowledge or intellect is in public domain, and rights are held in perpetuity. In case of GIs the right-holders’ rights are circumscribed, i.e., they cannot assign these rights to others but can prevent makers from other areas from selling their makes projecting that those are produced in that particular geographical areas. These rights are required to be retained in specified territory so that the artisans in that area enjoy the exclusive commercial benefits. The poor conditions of family, low wages, dwindling market, onslaught of competing goods, and disinterest of newer generations in continuing their ancestral business securing the quality of goods are some of the problems which do not allow the artisans to take benefit from GI rights. The suicides by artisans, weavers and other traditional artists are the indications of these sad ground realities, to whom the fruits of GI registration have never reached.
Although India has many products that could qualify for securing the Geographical Indication status, this legal protection was not provided till the sui generis law of Geographical Indications of Goods (Identification & Protection) Act, 1999 with Rules, 2002. Thereafter several handloom products, handicrafts were registered in India as Geographical Indications, followed by agricultural products and artisanal products too. The real success of GI will solely depend on the effective marketing and promotion of the product. Purpose of GI is to protect the Pochampalli saree maker, or Mysore silk weaver, or Kashmir shawl producer from commercial invasions by MNCs. Whether such purpose is being served? The government is just registering several GIs but not doing anything to secure the commercial benefits to the artisans of those areas by evolving schemes to increase the production and marketing facilities. Tirupathi Laddu is such similar cosmetic addition to the list.
Laddu as ‘Goods”
Section 11(2) of GI Act states goods with inherent natural and human factors could be registered as GI. It is not acceptable to consider Tirupathi Laddu Prasadam as a mere tasty foodstuff. Laddu is not a mere material ball of sweet unique to a town called Tirupathi so that GI could be secured. For millions of devotees, Sri Vari Laddu is sacred ‘prasadam’, offered to deity of Sri Venkateswara in the sanctum sanctorum. Laddus, Vadas and several other food items are made for Naivedyam (the offering) amidst sacred sounds of mantras and bells. TTD in its application stated that the ‘laddu gets its reputation not from its taste alone but from its sanctity’. In fact, it is the other way round, it gets its reputation only from its sanctity and not from its taste. Ardent devotees opine that even the unique taste is because it was offered to God.
There are two substantial points to oppose this GI. Tirupati Laddu stands much above the mundane material level, because of the faith the devotees repose in. Calling it a thing is bringing it down from its high pedestal. Second point is: It is also not justified to call it Geographical indication. Which geography this laddu is indicating? It is not Tirupathi, because nowhere in Tirupathi town these laddus are made except in temple. Strictly speaking not even the temple on Tirumala, but just the kitchen in the temple. An IPR which is meant for a wider geographical area cannot be confined to a very small portion of a temple.
Sadly, for TTD which made 10 million dollars in 2007 out of sale of Laddus, as per Wikipedia report, ‘laddu’ is just a commercial food article. TTD’s application published in Geographical Indication Journal No. 28 at page 38 states that the cost of small Laddu is Rs.25 and big laddu, Rs.100. Around 70,000 pilgrims visit Tirumala every day and almost every one purchases laddu, leading to a turnover of Rs. 17 to 70 lakh a day. Everything including offerings to Him, songs in His praise, human hair from tonsure, or even the chance of a glance at Sri Varu, is a source of income for TTD. Several Mathadhipathis criticized the TTD for such cheap commerce in sentiments, devotion, time and place of abode of Lord Venkateswara. The GI to Tirupathi Laddu opened flood gates for applications from rich temples such as Sabarimala of Ayyappa, for ‘aravana payasam’ (‘payasam’ is rise-based sweet porridge) and ‘appam’, Mookambika Temple for its ‘tirumadhuram’, or Sri Krishna Temple of Alleppey for their Palapayasam (milk made sweet porridge with ghee and rice) etc under false impression that would fetch them huge profits.
The insatiable quest for income of TTD is glaring. Laddu as GI has tremendous publicity value, but sans any real value or offers any protection to it as unique product, because never there was a threat of duplication. Except on Tirumala Laddu is not available. Not because it is impossible to prepare, but the one and only Lord is believed to be incarnated only on these Seven Sacred Hills. TTD could establish many Kalyana mantapams and even temples at different places in India and abroad, but it is not possible to spread branches or sales representatives for Lord. Though the Geographical Indication registration granted to it gives monopoly to it, TTD cannot sell the Laddus in its ‘branch’ offices also. Except TTD’s cooks in Sri Vari Potu, part of main temple on Tirumala, nowhere Laddus are made. Even if others make Laddus, they cannot enter Sanctum Santorum to give status of Prasadam.
How does it enforce the Right?
Literally, ‘Tirupathi’ is a Tamil word meaning Husband of Lakshmi (Thiru = Shree = Lakshmi, Pathi = Husband), ie Lord Vishnu. Can TTD stop any Vishnu-temple offering and selling Laddus? It can only stop any national or multinational marketing company selling Laddu as Tirupathi Laddu, which threat is not foreseen at all. In fact, it is not Tirpuathi Laddu but Tirumala Laddu (made inside temple), because laddu is not made in Tirupathi. Tirumala means the ‘Shree Hills’. It cannot also stop anybody making laddus, elsewhere and sell them as Tirumala Laddus after offering to Sri Venkateswara in local temple. Strangely, the other unique prasadam of Tirumala ‘Vada’ is not thought fit to secure GI. Most of the Balaji temples in India and abroad make and sell laddu and vada prasadam. Then what is protected? Section 21(1) (b) of GI Act explained the rights arising out of GI Act gives to the authorised user thereof the exclusive right to the use of the geographical indication in relation to the goods in respect of which the geographical indication is registered. When TTD is the sole producer and sole seller already excluding all others, such a protection is redundant. Section 9(d) of the Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration & Protection) Act, 1999 says – 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. Whether this statutory mandate ignored before granting GI to Tirupathi Laddu? Calling sacred Prasadam as commercial Goods will hurt the sentiments of millions of devotees of Balaji.
Real respect lies in consuming Sri Vari Prasadam as soon as it is given. Strictly speaking selling and taking it home is also not justified, however selling to meet huge demand, and taking prasadam to other members of family who could not come is reasonable. By its nature, characteristic, sanctity it is physically not possible for anyone to make Tirupathi Laddus and sell. Even if we accept the argument of TTD that selling Laddu would not give them any profit as the cost of inputs is more than its price, what interests the TTD intended to protect by procuring the GI registration for Laddu? Unfortunately the bigwigs of TTD present Big Laddus to big politicians, VVIPS and Big Businessmen in the country to win their favours. They carry it beyond Tirupathi and distribute to improve public (or personal?) relations. Its propriety is questionable. Sanctity is the unique feature of Laddu, more than its taste, but TTD claims laddu’s taste as unique for the purpose of GI and gives secondary status to ‘sanctity’.
Whose interests are protected?
Is it the case of TTD that it intends to protect the interests of skilled cooks by allowing a share in commercial income by protecting them from being counterfeited by traders? No. All those Laddu makers are regular workers of the TTD, who never get any share in profits out of selling Laddus. TTD is the sole producer and sole beneficiary. Nowhere in the world duplicate Tirupathi laddus are made or sold. By spending lakhs of rupees to get GI, what the TTD has achieved?
In fact, registration is not compulsory for Geographical Indication, but once registered, it has to be renewed for every ten years if not it gets lapsed. If not for devotees, artisans, skilled cooks, why this divine indication, Tirupathi Laddu Prasadam is being converted into commercial indication through this Geographical indication? It is high time that the devotees pray Lord Venkateswara that no IPR expert law firm would advise, for a fat fee, of course, to register Copyright in the design of clothes, jewelry, crown or the very divine beautiful form of Lord’s deity or trademark for its logo with Anandanilaya Vimanam, and so on and so forth. Whether the riches being made by TTD by selling copyrighted books, calendars, diaries, photos, videos, CDs and DVDs like Suprabhatam and Brahmotsavam, not enough? Is TTD a trustee or a trader?
Do media need urgent training on intellectual property rights? Yes, because its representatives exhibited intellectual poverty in reporting an Intellectual property rights related news item that Tirupathi Laddu has secured registration as a Geographical Indication. Some newspapers described it as ‘global patent’ (which does not exist) other scribes of web newspapers called it ‘copyright’ (Goods cannot be copyrighted) and some others as a mark, confusing their readers with their bankruptcy and wrongs. Here are some examples: Indian Express on 29th March rightly reported saying ‘GI status for Laddu’, but Zeenews stated Tirupathi Laddu is going‘..to get patent right’ (8th June). Newsonweb on 15th September says ‘TTD gets Copyright in Laddu”, Times of India (16th September) described it as global patent, ndtv (15th Sept) did not hesitate to say ‘….gets geographical copyright’, livemint said ‘patented offering’ (19th September) and happyhyderabad website wrote ‘copyright reserved for Tirupathi Laddu brand’. Some media called it just ‘ipr right’.
The hollowness and peripheral reporting increased in these days in the media, which is further manifested in reports about Laddu. It is pathetic that reporters did not bother to verify their knowledge (or lack of it). In fact, the journalists should have further probed, without confining to mere press notes and announcements, to tell the readers how society is benefitted by converting sacred prasadam into commercial food goods. Why TTD got the GI, how much it has spent on securing the registration as a Geographical Indication, who will benefit out of it, were unfortunately nobody’s questions. It is astonishing that the journalists did not have even a common man’s curiosity to know these details, and criticized that they reduced themselves into just ‘reporters’ to whatever is supplied or told to them. A little questioning by any media member could have revealed the truth as to how futile it is to secure a commercial status to a divine prasadam.
The Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanams (TTD), trustees of world’ richest temple on Tirumala Hills must have spent lakhs of rupees (from people’s money) to secure Geographical (GI) Registration for Tirupathi Laddu, from Indian Patent Office, Chennai, recently, raising many eyebrows for its latest manifestation of brazen commercialization. Among the intellectual property rights, the patent is given for innovation with industrial application coupled with utility. Copyright generates the moment a creative expression is made. Trademark emerges out of credible use of a mark over a period of time. While these Intellectual Property Rights – patents and copyrights belong to individuals or some legal persons, the GI is collective right which is intended to protect the artisans and other local labour who excel in making goods which are unique to that particular geographical region, drawing that merit to make the goods very special. The consumers also identify such goods with that geographical region and prefer to purchase that from that place or from the makers of that place alone. In GI, the collective right, the knowledge or intellect is in the public domain, and rights are held in perpetuity. In case of GIs the right-holders’ rights are circumscribed, i.e., they cannot assign these rights to others but can prevent makers from other areas from selling their makes projecting that those are produced in that particular geographical areas. These rights are required to be retained in the specified territory so that the artisans in that area enjoy the exclusive commercial benefits. The poor conditions of family, low wages, dwindling market, the onslaught of competing goods, and disinterest of newer generations in continuing their ancestral business securing the quality of goods are some of the problems which do not allow the artisans to take benefit from GI rights. The suicides by artisans, weavers, and other traditional artists are the indications of these sad ground realities, to whom the fruits of GI registration have never reached. If Pochampalli saree maker, or Mysore silk weaver, or Kashmir shawl producer is protected by the state from multimillionaire mill owners’ commercial invasions, the purpose and objective of GI law would be properly served. Are we doing it? All those Tirupathi Laddu makers are regular workers of the TTD, who never get any share in profits out of selling Laddus. TTD is sole the producer and sole beneficiary of the Laddu making and sales. If not for devotees, artisans, skilled cooks, why this divine indication- the Tirupathi Laddu Prasadam is being converted into commercial indication through this Geographical indication? Why anyone from media does not raise this question? “Is Laddu a commercial food product?” For millions of devotees Sri Vari Laddu is sacred ‘prasadam’, which means the food offered to deity of Sri Venkateswara in the sanctum sanctorum and then distributed among devotees. Laddus, Vadas and several other food items are made for Naivedyam, the offerings to Lord with divine chanting of temple bells and recitation of mantras. TTD in its application stated that the ‘laddu gets its reputation not from its taste alone but from its sanctity’. In fact, it is the other way round; it gets its reputation only from its sanctity and not from its taste.
As the media failed to address these issues, the devotees have to pray Lord Venkateswara that no IPR expert law firm would advise, for a fat fee of course, to register Copyright in the design of cloths, jewelry, crown or the very divine beautiful form of Lord’s deity, or Trade mark for its logo with Anandanilaya Vimanam, so on and so forth.
Contributed by Professor Madabhushi Sridhar