The Need to Look Beyond Wines and Spirits: GI Law in India and the Woes of Muga Silk

Muga silk finds its origin and usage in ancient valleys in Assam centuries back. Kautilyas arthshatra also depicts the story of Muga silk, the silk has also reserved its place in world’s finest silk according to famous historian Edward A. Gait’s “A History of Assam”. Muga silk reflects the culture and heritage of the people of the state of Assam, the silk is comprised to give result to beautiful attire Muga Mekhela Sador which is outrageously worn by the bihu dancers and is also the traditional attire for the Assamese ladies. Owing one of such outfit is a moment of pride for all the women.

The registration of such geographic indication is a must to avoid exploitation as we are well versed with the Darjeeling tea case, similarly the Assam’s Muga silk was registered as a G.I in 2006 which was a result of initiative taken by Assam Science Technology and Environment Council (ASTEC) with the help of a firm called Corporate Law Group based in New Delhi. All the rights were conferred to the registered user with reference to section 21(!)(b) of the Act.


Section 10 of the G.I act 1999 talks about homonymous products which mean 2 similar products can be recognised under the act if it successfully proves to the registrar the difference in quality and is able to create a distinctive image in eyes of the consumer.

Similarly the MOONGA silk distinctively sold in NCR area claiming to be originated in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, UP and Bihar led consumers buy moonga considering muga silk, which mislead the consumers. Silk Board India confirmed negative about the identity of Moonga silk but there are no strict implementation.


With no strict laws for the infringement of geographic indication in India there are limited infringements filed by the proprietors or the authorised user which leads to constant infringement for instance the protection of “wines and spirits”, India opposes the idea of providing additional protection to only wines and spirits at the WTO-TRIPS negotiations, thereby inserting section 22(2) in its domestic GI legislation providing an opportunity for adding products other than wines and spirits in the additional protection list. Section 22(2) states that the Central Government may, if it thinks necessary so to do provide additional protection to certain goods or classes of goods by notification in the Official Gazette, specify such goods or class or classes of goods, for the purposes of such protection. Sadly, disregarding the original intention, the government of India has so far issued notification under section 22(2) extending higher level of protection only to wines and spirits but not to other products, though they should have rightly done so.

G.I in itself is not enough to provide protection to the country, region, and area’s traditional products which only results in exploitation of the products containing traditional factors. The proprietors and registered users have to be pro-active to deal with such infringements. In the case of the Muga, the GI proprietors, the registered users as well as the government of Assam should take steps so that Muga and its identity with ‘Assam’ and its people remain intact.

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