India and Pakistan are now indulging in a battle of a different kind. While India has alleged that Pakistan has indulged in “seed technology piracy” of its Pusa-1121 basmati rice variety, Islamabad’s scientists have denied the allegations.

Records from the Rajya Sabha now show that the Indian government had acknowledged way back in 2009 that Pakistan was growing Pusa-1121  but not in a “major way”. 

Reporting on Pakistan filing an application with the European Union seeking geographical indication (GI) tag on February 25,businessline pointed out that there was a conflict of interest in Islamabad claiming GI tag for Pusa-1121 basmati in the garb of PK-1121. 

Poaching of IPR

On August 9, 2009, the then minister of State for Agriculture, Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, KV Thomas, responding to the late Sharad Joshi, founder of the Shetkari Sanghatana, query on “Poaching of intellectual property rights” said, “As per reports available, it (Pusa-1121) is being grown in Pakistan, but not in a major way.” 

Asked whether “Pakistani authorities are trying to pass it off as a new variety under the name Kayanat,” the minister said. “Pakistan Government has not registered the variety Kayanat so far. However, media reports and traders’ advertisements on the Internet suggest the existence of generic/trade names like 1121 (Kayanat), Kianat (1121) and 1121-Kiynat-Pussa etc. in Pakistan.”

Thomas said the Indian Council of Agricultural Research “has already filed its application for the protection of this variety under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act, 2001”. 

Seeking legal action

Last month,  IARI director AK Singh sought legal action against “unscrupulous” seed firms in Pakistan for “illicit seed sales and cultivation” of Pusa-1121. He said the Pusa-1509 variety was being sold and cultivated as “Kissan Basmati” in Pakistan.

Last week, Pakistan daily Dawn quoted Pakistan Rice Research Institute Director Muhammad Ijaz as saying that “the claim (India’s) is completely preposterous and merely propaganda. It has no leg to stand on.”

Ijaz said the DNA of the two Pakistani varieties (PK-1121 and Kissan Basmati) was entirely different from the Indian seeds. “I believe the rapid growth in rice exports from Pakistan prompted the IARI director to make such wild, baseless allegations,” he said.

The Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan has thrown its hat in the issue asking its rice research institute to provide samples of four Pakistani and Indian rice varieties each, and their DNA profiles if already done. 

Not UPOV member yet

The request was made for the third-party assessment and DNA sequencing for comparison between them, said Haseen Ali Khan, acting chairman of the association. 

However, sources said Pakistan had notified the PK-1121 variety only in 2013. They said though India had filed the protection of Pusa-1121 under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001, it was not a member of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). 

“While India can protect the variety nationally, it will not be able to do anything abroad,” the sources said. 

S Chandrasekaran, author of Basmati rice: The natural history geographical indication, said there had been a concerted effort in the case of RiceTec and now that fervour is missing. The current infringement is serious and needs a crafted strategy to take the issue ahead. “The act of Pakistan is a typical example for the authentic claim of India in the exclusivity of basmati rice. India should design such trade policy provisions to thwart infringement in the current case,” he said.

No follow up since 2009

Countering Pakistan’s Ijaz argument that India was making allegations on Pusa-1121 as it envied Islamabad’s Basmati growth in the global market, the sources said the neighbouring country earned $800-900 annually from the rice’s exports. “Over the past 15 years since Thomas told Parliament, Pakistan has earned close to $10 billion using our seeds,” an exporter said. 

However, sources said India raised the issue only after Pakistan filed for GI tag with the European Union including PK-1121. Until then, no one, including IARI, had raised any voice.

Sources, however, expressed surprise why the authorities failed to follow after the 2009 response in Parliament. They said Indian officials would not have thought that things could take such a turn. 

The European Commission (EC) published Pakistan’s application for the GI tag and India will likely challenge it soon. India had applied for the GI tag in July 2018 but the EC has not taken any decision yet.