WTI-IFAW recommended Kashmir Pashmina GI awarded


Delhi: Ending two years of litigation the Kashmir Handmade Pashmina Promotion Trust (KHPPT) and the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) on the one hand, and the Crafts Development Institute (CDI) and the Tahafuz, on the other, resolved their differences leading to the award of Geographical Indications of Goods patent to Kashmir Pashmina.

The Geographical Indication (GI) which was awarded on September 12 followed an agreement among the four parties on August 25, 2008, actively brokered by the union minister of state for commerce, Jairam Ramesh. The GI was awarded to Tahafuz after KHPPT withdrew its objections last week.

The KHPPT is a body of former shahtoosh, and pashmina workers that was created at the behest of WTI and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to promote traditional Kashmir Handmade pashmina. The CDI is an autonomous body created by the Government of India and the Jammu and Kashmir State Government to promote handicrafts in the state. As a precursor to registering a series of GI, the CDI, after filing the GI applications, created Tahafuz as a society of diverse Kashmiri handicraft artisans.

The agreement effectively gives powers to both KHPPT and pashmina workers within Tahafuz to form a joint body which would administer the Kashmir pashmina appellation.  This award conclusively sets at rest objections raised by any non-India parties and from now on only those pashmina products coming out of the Kashmir valley that adhere to the product specifications registered with the GI registry can qualify to call themselves Kashmir Pashmina.

The GI concept for Kashmir Pashmina was strongly recommended by the Wildlife Trust of India and the International Fund for Animal Welfare as early as 2001 after it conducted a census of shahtoosh workers in the Kashmir Valley and positioned Kashmir Pashmina as a premium product that would provide a viable alternative to the banned shahtoosh products reducing the poaching pressure on the Tibetan antelope (Panthelops hodgsonii) commonly known as the chiru.

“We had also pointed out that over 600 years of goodwill created by Kashmir Pashmina workers was being used by those who had nothing to do with the product and at the same time products from all over the world were masquerading as Cashmere or Kashmir Pashmina,” Aniruddha Mookerjee, Senior Director WTI and Trustee KHPPT said.

Found in the upper ridges of the Tibetan plateau in China, the animal is endangered due to intensive poaching for its wool. Chiru under fleece yields the finest of wool and it is used for making highly prized shahtoosh shawls.

Trading in derivatives of the Tibetan Antelope has been banned by law in India, Nepal and China. International trade in any form has also been prohibited by CITES, which lists the animal in Appendix I.

Although India does not have a resident chiru population as the Tibet Autonmous Region of China does, about 250 animals migrate to Ladakh in Jammu & Kashmir every summer and return by winter. The animals are poached in China and their wool is smuggled to the Kashmir Valley, which is the only place in the world where it is worked with.

Earlier, Crafts Development Institute, representing Tahafuz, had filed an application for Kashmir Pashmina in the GI registry in the year 2005.  The KHPPT, and WTI, which had begun work on GI in 2000 had objected to this application on the grounds that it did not represent the correct traditional Kashmir hand made pashmina product.

KHPPT objected to the fact that the CDI application was diluting the purity of the product by paving the way for introduction of machines in two basic categories of the traditional Pashmina production process making many jobless. While the CDI application only looked at Class 24, KHPPT wanted it registered in Class 23 and 25 as well.

“The very basis of traditional Pashmina in Kashmir is hand cleaning and hand spinning, two categories that are run entirely by women. CDI’s application would have legitimized  machines in these two stages making thousands of skilled women workers, many of them conflict widows, redundant,” Mr Mookerjee said.

The KHPPT also objected to the fact that the GI footprint as portrayed by the CDI application expanded the production area of Kashmir Pashmina from the Kashmir valley to the entire state, which was unfair to the artisans of the Kashmir Valley, where the production had traditionally taken place.

“Moreover, we strongly felt that Tahafuz, which is a multi-disciplinary body, would not have the right perspective to handle such an important issue as administering Kashmir Pashmina GI and that a special forum should be created within it,” Mushtaq Ahmed Mir, Trustee KHPPT said.

In the agreement signed among 4 parties witnessed by the minister, Mr. Ramesh, the following was agreed to:

a. All KHPPT members will become members of Tahafuz to look after intellectual property rights and issues related to Kashmir Pashmina.

b. A special GI sub-committee named Kashmir Hand Made Pashmina Promotion Division(KHPPD)  comprising nominated members of KHPPT and Tahafuz would exclusively handle the execution of Kashmir Pashmina GI.

c. Kashmir pashmina GI would be registered in the clauses 23, 24, and 25 which include yarns, threads, textile and clothing.

The parties also mutually agreed to create two categories of Kashmir Pashmina of which category ‘A’ would be entirely hand made and would be superior in value to category B, which may have some use of machines. This would have to be specified on the product.

“I am glad that the GI has been issued and the differences could be settled amicably.The next step will be to ensure its proper implementation and to ensure a good certification mechanism. We also have to make sure that the benefits of this development reach the artisans. And am I very sure both parties will work together and closely to make this happen,” Shariq Farooqui, Director CDI said.