Months after the bittersweet battle over the origin of the delectable “Rosogolla”, the Geographical Indications Registry announced on Thursday that Bengal gets to keep the Geographical Indications (GI) status accorded to ‘Banglar Rosogolla’.
West Bengal was given the GI tag for ‘Banglar Rosogolla’, the state’s alleged variant of the syrupy dessert, in November 2017. In February 2018, a Mr. Ramesh Chandra Sahoo, who claims to be the chairman of regional development trust in Odisha, filed a rectification petition demanding the cancellation of Bengal’s GI registration of the sweet.
On October 31, however, the Registry dismissed the rectification petition on account of delays by Odisha to present evidence in support of its petition within the stipulated timelines.
Speaking to News18, advocate Manosij Mukherjee said that after the application for the removal/cancellation of the GI Registration for “Banglar Rasogolla” was filed in February 2018, West Bengal Government filed a counter statement to defend its claim to the sweet.
However, Odisha failed to provide evidence to support its case within the stipulated time. “They ended up filing the evidence in the end but that was after the stipulated period of three months” Mukherjee, who assisted advocate S Majumdar in representing West Bengal government along with Sayan Roy Chowdhury, said.
“Instead of countering the evidence on merit West Bengal challenged the evidence on technical grounds. An interlocutory petition was also filed by West Bengal seeking dismissal of the application for rectification under the mandatory provisions of law,” the lawyer added.
The first hearing of the interlocutory petition was held on September 6 this year. The GI Registry instead of hearing the case on merits posted the matter for hearing on October 21, 2019 to hear the technical issues raised by West Bengal and gave opportunity to Odisha to file its counter.
After both parties concluded arguments in the case, the GI registry’s verdict on October 31 upheld the interlocutory petition by West Bengal and dismissed Odisha’s rectification petition.
What is a GI Tag?
A Geographic Indicator tag is accorded to products that have a specific geographic origin. It refers to a distinctive name or sign accorded to agricultural, natural or manufactured goods that are generally owned collectively. These tags help identify and differentiate products with unique characteristics or geographic roots. A GI tag can help in branding and marketing local products for sale. Replicating IG tags can incur penalties. These tags are given out by the Geographical Indications Registry, headquartered in Chennai.
Other products that have the GI tag include Darjeeling Tea, Bhagalpur Silks, Mysore Agarbatti, Kashmir Pashmina and Coorg Orange among others.
A not-so-sweet battle
The tussle over the origin of Rosogolla, long popular in Indian pop-culture and history as a Bengali dessert and known variously as ‘rasgulla’ or ‘rasagola’ (depending on what state it is in) began in 2015 when Odisha established July 30 as “Rasagola Dibasha” to mark the festival of Niladri Bije. the last day of Rath Yatra.
According to the Odia rhetoric, the rosogolla was invented in Odisha as far back as the 12th century when dumplings made out of cottage cheese or ‘chenna’ were served as offering in the Lord Jagannath temple in Puri.
Odisha’s former Science and Technology Minister Pradip Kumar Panigrahi also set up several committees in 2015 to trace the origin of the sweet delicacy.
After Odias started staking claim to the coveted sweet, once described as a “sweet, syrupy, soft cheese balls” by colonial British chef British chef William Harold, Bengal rushed to accord the GI tag to maintain its claim. Bengal government, too, set up a committee and decided to fight Odisha government’s claims legally. According to Bengalis, the quintessential Bengali delicacy was created by Nabin Chandra Das, a famous sweetmeat-maker in the 19th century at his Banghbazar residence in Kolkata.
In November 2017, Bengal was accorded the GI status for ‘Banglar Rosogolla”, which is different in texture and taste from Odisha’s version.
However, in July 2019, the Odisha Small Industries Corporation Limited and Utkala Mistanna Byabasayee Samiti (Utkala Sweetmakers Business Body) also obtained the GI tag for Odisha’s variant of the sweet called “Odisha Rasagola”.
Cutural scholars like Asit Mohanty also supported the Odisha government’s claim. Mohanty said he had uncovered the use of the word “rasogolla” in the seminal Dandi Ramayan written by the medieval poet Balaram Das in Odia in the 15th Century.
As of now, both states have GI status for their own versions of the dessert. However, its origin story remains uncertain.