We have been working with buyers across segments, including foreign buyers, designers, and e-commerce players. All of them have an insatiable hunger for Indian-made luxury products. ODOP products invoke a sense of ethnocentric pride. Be it the beautifully crafted artifacts at Jaypore stores or the handcrafted Indian sarees by Tata or the Zari Zardosi work by Manish Malhotra, everyone would love to support artisans and deliver a premium product. On the customer side, there is demand for products created by artisans and weavers. They want to know the stories, the lives, and the craftsmanship of all these producers.
One thing preventing the take-off of this idea is fake products. All customers, designers, and brands want only original and authentic products. They don't want to buy machine-made Kanihama shawls from another state because the original product is to be from Jammu and Kashmir and woven by hand. Handcrafted watches from Switzerland are a case in point. They command a premium that is beyond what a machine-made, precision-assembled Rolex can get. In one of my conversations with a big conglomerate, they mentioned that folks who spend a fortune in buying a hand-dyed saree, are accepting of the human element of bleeding, misplaced thread, and other such imperfections. These folks understand the nature of the element in the first place. These mistakes make the product what it is and that is why it deserves a special place.
The roadblock in implementing this is the absence of a body that tracks authenticity and origin. ODOP allows for any business that sources the raw material or processes/produces the final product in the selected district. However, there is no way to authenticate these products. There is no agency or mechanism through which these producers can get certified or empanelled. Due to this, there is mistrust when a tourist sees a shawl claimed as Pashmina. They discount the origin and the quality.
There is a need for a mark of authenticity or a source of authenticity. While we may not know how to recognize an original Rolex, it is possible to check their serial numbers online. However, since it is a single, organized, and endowed producer with wide recall, its task is slightly easier. In the case of India which has a diverse variety of products, one can create a form of authentication check that can inform the buyer if this is original and if the person who is selling it to them (could be Tribes India or a private outlet) is the legitimate owner as per the records.
What this requires is a central database and a publicized website to check authenticity. This mark/website would not certify quality or compliance with any laws or the price or any other attribute other than the chain of ownership of the product. Blockchain is a technology that solves exactly this purpose. Each district can have its GM- District Industries Center as the nodal office for getting registered.
It still leaves the following problems. First, if a registered/authenticated person sells fake stuff, it cannot be detected without social enforcement. Second, in case of violation, there should be expulsion from the system instead of harsh punishments or legal action. The system, especially if based on blockchain would be such that if a person is not on
the chain, they are automatically excluded without the need for further enforcement. Third, there should be multiple ways for someone to authenticate themselves. If someone cannot reach out to GMDIC, they should be able to go to Citizen Service Centers (MiETY) or to the Collector's office to authenticate themselves. Fourth, it should be updated at each point of sale. In case it is updated till retail sale, it would not serve the resale market beyond the second sale. Fifth, the process and the app should be simple and quick enough for small traders to update. Sixth, there are some means already in place for authenticity. They include the Handloom mark, Pashmina mark, Agro mark, and the like. The problem with these is that they are too many for a lay buyer to keep track of. Second, even if a product carries a particular mark, unless there is a way to authenticate the authentication, it is of no use. Lastly, there would be instances where people try to copy the QR code and place it on other products. This ties back to the original problem of an authentic seller selling fake goods. This cannot be prevented without social enforcement.