Ooty Varkey, the baked delicacy synonymous with the Nilgiris, is all set to get the prestigious Geographical Indications (GI) tag. A society of its manufacturers has recently submitted an application in the city GI registry seeking the tag. India, as member of the WTO, enacted the GI Act in 1999 which came into effect in September 2003. The GI tag is given to a product to indicate its specific geographical location or point of origin. The tag ensures none other than those authorized are allowed to use the product name.
The Association claims that these biscuits deserve GI protection because they are unique to the region due to the following reasons:
(i) It is made by hand, only the mixing of flour, sugar, salt and water is done by machines. Other processes is made by hand
(ii) The water drained from the hills of the Nilgiri district is used in the preparation of the Varkey makes it delicious
(iii) Its climatic conditions
(iv) Varkey is baked on firewood ovens on a moderate heat
(v) Originates only in the district of Nilgiris
(vi) Varkey cannot be produced in other places where the temperature is above 25 degree Celsius
On the basis of these (mouth watering) claims, various questions require attention and the registry should not be tempted to bite into these tasty delights in haste. Fundamental questions such as: do these biscuits even qualify for a GI tag, does the association filing this application represent all the producers/manufacturers of these goods and whether standards can be maintained with respect to goods that are so widely made/produced (even in the given geographical region), require thorough examination. The definition of a GI as per the GI Act is “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 characteristic of such goods is essentially attributable to its geographical origin”. Additionally, in case of manufactured goods, the production or processing should take place within the specific geographical region.
A geographical indication in relation to natural or agricultural goods is easier to assess since there are definite natural factors such as temperature, soil quality, moisture etc which directly impact the quality and characteristics of the product thereby creating an apparent ‘geographical link’. However, with respect to manufactured or processed goods, this link becomes less obvious to define. In such cases, in order to assess this link, the registry must undertake thorough fact based as well as scientific studies into ascertaining the claimed geographical link. In the case of the Ooty Varkey, the application must be scrutinized to assess whether there is a public perception that these biscuits come only from the Nilgiri district. Since one of the main geographical links in relation to this biscuit, as claimed, is that it is made from the waters of the Nilgiris, will a consumer who is given a Varkey made from the waters of Shimla be able to distinguish it from a Varkey made with the waters of the Nilgiris in Ooty? Added to the fact based inquiries, scientific inquiries into temperature requirements/climatic conditions/water components will have to be examined in order to come to a conclusion of whether or not these biscuits have a quality, reputation or characteristic that link them to the Nilgiri district alone.
After Independence, the product became an important item in the bakeries of Ooty, Coonoor, Kothagiri, Manjoor and Gudalur. The production and sales also increased substantially. According to the application submitted by the Ooty Varkey Producers Welfare Association, the British, who had been residing in the Nilgiris, made their own snacks which included mostly biscuits, cakes and cookies. A new snack, similar to a cookie, was made in Ooty. The British ate this new cookie with their tea.