The once iconic Palika Bazar at the centre of Delhi’s Connaught Place area has now earned a dubious distinction: Being classified among India’s five Notorious Markets List (NML) in the US Trade Representative list of such markets. Notorious being an euphemism for selling “counterfeit and pirated” goods.
“It may have been so in 2007-08 but not now,” said Vinay Thakur, General Secretary of Palika Bazar Association. “We sell electronic items like headphones, torches, hair dryers, lights, lipsticks and emergency lights and they are mostly Chinese. We are retailers and sell whatever we get”.
Most visitors to the market are youngsters looking for trendy products at cheap prices. “If the US wants to sell its products here, it is welcome to do so,” said an angry Thakur. “Our customers want quality products and at a reasonable price. As of now, Chinese products meet these requirements and so their products are sold.”
Releasing recently the 2021 Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy, US trade representative (USTR) Katherine Tai said: “The global trade in counterfeit and pirated goods undermines critical US innovation and creativity and harms American workers. This illicit trade also increases the vulnerability of workers involved in the manufacturing of counterfeit goods to exploitative labour practices. Also, counterfeit goods can pose significant risks to the health and safety of consumers and workers around the world”.
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The 2021 Notorious Markets List (NML) identified 42 online markets and 35 physical markets worldwide that reportedly engage in or facilitate substantial trademark counterfeiting or copyright piracy. The list is published every year by the United States Trade Representative (USTR).
The inclusion on the list, however, may affect reputation of markets and sellers but carries no direct penalties.
The other notorious markets
Reflecting the Biden-Harris Administration’s worker-centred trade policy, the 2021 NML issue focus section examines the adverse impact of counterfeiting on workers involved with the manufacture of counterfeit goods. The section describes how the illicit nature of counterfeiting requires coordination between relevant actors in order to effectively uncover and combat labour violations in counterfeiting operations across the globe.
The 2021 NML list identifies for the first time AliExpress and the WeChat e-commerce ecosystem, two significant China-based online markets that reportedly facilitate substantial trademark counterfeiting. Also, China-based online markets Baidu Wangpan, DHGate, Pinduoduo, and Taobao continue to be listed, as well as nine physical markets in China that are known for the manufacture, distribution, and sale of counterfeit goods.
USTR first identified notorious markets in the Special 301 Report in 2006. Since February 2011, USTR has published this list annually, separately from the Special 301 Report, to increase public awareness and help market operators and governments prioritize intellectual property enforcement efforts.
The NML does not constitute an exhaustive list of all markets allegedly dealing in or facilitate commercial-scale copyright piracy or trademark counterfeiting, nor does it reflect findings of legal violations or the US Government’s analysis of the general intellectual property protection and enforcement climate in the country concerned. Such analysis is contained in the annual Special 301 Report issued at the end of April each year.
USTR initiated the 2021 NML Review on August 30, 2021, through publication in the Federal Register of a request for public comments. The request for comments and the public’s responses are online at www.regulations.gov, Docket number USTR-2021-0013.
Besides IndiaMart, an e-commerce website and mobile app, four physical Indian markets on the list are located in Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi.
IndiaMART that connects buyers with suppliers describes itself as the world’s second largest online business-to-business market. According to the report, “counterfeit goods can allegedly be found in large volumes on IndiaMART, including counterfeit pharmaceuticals, electronics, and apparel”.
IndiaMART apparently has a notice-and-takedown system, but right holders report that it is burdensome to use, the time-to-takedown is slow and the status of notices is not transparently communicated to right holders, according to USTR.
Heera Panna, Mumbai, a major indoor market located at the heart of the city, reportedly sells counterfeit watches, footwear, accessories, and cosmetics. A raid at Heera Panna in September 2021 resulted in arrests for selling counterfeit versions of premium watches.
Another Indian market in the list is Kidderpore, Kolkata, which allegedly sells counterfeit apparel and cosmetics, often in wholesale quantities and is locally known as “Fancy Market.”
Shop owners’ angry reactions
The 44-year old Palika underground market has been put on NML as the USTR says it is seemingly well-known for the trade of counterfeit products, such as mobile accessories, cosmetics, watches and eyewear.
“They don’t seem to have surveyed the bazaar or visited it before making the list,” said Mahesh Jetly, Vice President of the Palika Bazar Association Business. “Business is already poor, and a listing like this affects the market’s reputation.”
“We don’t sell big items since we have small shops and mostly they are Chinese footwear and garments,” Thakur chimed in. “It is not proper to be put on this list. We are retailers and sell products which are available.”
A round of Palika Bazar reveals mostly garments, torches, lights, fancy lampshades, leather goods, toys, handicrafts and headphones on display in most shops. The few that sell food cannot cook in the premises and so shop owners bring it from home.
Refuting Katherine’s statement, Thakur insisted there was no presence of foreign tourists in the market. “Customers are just beginning to trickle in and most people visiting this place are only doing window shopping.”
Since the market was set up in 1978, shop owners have changed their wares with changing times, said Jetly, who runs an electronic store. “The bazar started out with many handicraft shops,” said Jetly. “Owners then switched to selling electronic goods and then video and audio cassettes when they became popular. With online shopping now picking up, most stores sell readymade garments now”.
Then and now
The underground market has around 400 stores spread over three acres, and predates all the malls in the city. One of the first businessmen to set up shop in Palika Bazar was Krishan Arora who has been running a garment store for 35 years. “When the bazaar came up, it was unique,” recalls Arora.
The bazar’s location also once housed the popular India Coffee House. The area was known as Theatre Communication Building, housing one of the capital’s earliest journalism schools known as Dateline Delhi School of Journalism. The complex was demolished during the emergency in 1975 and Palika Bazar was built.
“There was a park above and a bazar underground, and it was centrally air conditioned, which was a big deal then,” said Arora. “It became a place that tourists frequented and we used to rely on them for business.”
Arora owns factories in East Delhi which manufacture the garments his shop sells. Many shops buy surplus stock from showrooms for sale at the bazaar while some purchase their goods in bulk from factories at Panipat. Nearly 90% of the stores here used to sell electronics. Now a majority have switched to garments.
L R Monga who has a garment shop is another early entrant to set up shop in Palika Bazar. Some 78 shops were shifted from Panchkuin Road to the market, when their shops along with some in Janpath and Yusuf Sarai in South Delhi were asked to vacate to make way for widening of the road. “I used to sell lights and lamp shades then,” said Monga.
As one enters the complex he/she is greeted by youngsters shouting hoarse their wares and almost physically dragging visitors to their shops. But the bazaar is finding the going tough post-COVID.
The shops in the complex are known for allowing massive bargaining, where one can buy a bag marked at Rs 3000 for Rs 300. As one visitor said, “it is a market where one needs to have bargaining skills and immense patience to make a purchase at a price to suit your pocket”.
Besides garments, Palika Bazar is now well known for its gaming shops. One can buy gaming consoles and a copy of your favourite game at a give-away price. The items on display change as per demand and season, so whatever is trending in the market would definitely be available here.