Minutes after pulling up the shutter of his shop, Sumit Kumar* brought a table outside. He then piled up some jackets on the table, making sure that the one piece which bore the Levi’s tag was on top of the heap.

The ultra-bold font and the disproportionate text in the Levi’s logo – and a mere touch of the product – gave it away as a counterfeit. “This is a poor man’s market. If you need better goods, go to the showrooms,” Kumar said when asked if he could show a better jacket.

Gandhi Nagar market in east Delhi is nearly four decades old now and considered one of the biggest wholesale garment markets in Asia. It is also one among the 19 physical markets in the world which have their names in the list of “Notorious Markets” for the year 2016, released on December 21.

This list is part of a review prepared every year by the Office of the United States Trade Representative, a United States government agency which comes under the executive office of the President of USA. Its purpose is to keep an eye on:

specific physical and online markets around the world that are reported to be engaging in and facilitating substantial copyright piracy and trademark counterfeiting.  This activity harms the American economy by undermining the innovation and intellectual property rights (IPR) of American businesses and their workers.  The publication of the Notorious Markets List (List) helps the United States and foreign governments prioritize IPR enforcement efforts that protect job-supporting innovation and creativity in the United States and around the world.

The 2016 review lists 40 markets of which 21 are online markets, including one belonging to Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, and the remaining physical – with most of them located in China (six), followed by India (three) and Nigeria and Mexico (two markets each).

The other Indian markets included in the list are Kashmere Gate market in Delhi and Burma Bazaar in Chennai.

In Delhi, the narrow road in Gandhi Nagar market has retail outlets on both sides – with some traders dealing exclusively in jeans, winter apparels and bags. The narrow road branches out to over a dozen lanes – narrower and more congested. These lanes, with names such as Ashok Gali, Prem Gali, Guru Nanak Gali, together make the wholesale hub, with some traders having established their shops in less than 8’ X 8’ floor area.

A lane leading to the wholesale garments market in Gandhi Nagar Market. Image Credit: Abhishek Dey
A lane leading to the wholesale garments market in Gandhi Nagar Market. Image Credit: Abhishek Dey

Poor counterfeits

“It is surprising that Gandhi Nagar Market’s name is in such a list because counterfeits of much better quality and design are available in other markets in Delhi – Karol Bagh, Sarojini Nagar and Lajpat Nagar,” said Shekhar*, manager in a Jeans outlet. In the past, Delhi markets like Nehru Place and Gaffar market (in Karol Bagh) had made it to the list. But they were considered notorious for counterfeit computer hardware parts and software discs.

When Scroll.in visited Gandhi Nagar market on Thursday, some shop owners were found selling counterfeits, mostly jackets. One of the shop owners in Prem Gali, who did not want to be identified, said that the wholesalers procure the counterfeit garments from dealers in Delhi. But where the dealers procure materials from is not known to them.

Guru Nanak Gali in Gandhi Nagar. Image Credit: Abhishek Dey
Guru Nanak Gali in Gandhi Nagar. Image Credit: Abhishek Dey

“There are several stitching units in Seelampur, Zaffrabad and Usmanpur. They also have labels which they put on the clothes. But those are fake, which one can easily make out,” the shopowner said. All three areas named by the trader are situated in north-east Delhi, close to Gandhi Nagar. They have very high-population density and accommodate thousands of factories, most of which do not exist in official records.

“Most of the traders in the area have stopped dealing in counterfeits,” said Shekhar. “The first reason is the kind of customers this market caters to. They are mostly poor and lower-middle income groups, who look for quality at an affordable price and not brand names. Secondly, there have been quite a few police raids in the past two years. So the risk is not worth the returns.”

With time, many traders in the market have come up with own apparel brands – for instance, brands like CNB, Double Horses and FOB. One might not have heard of these brands because the traders have outlets only in Gandhi Nagar – though some of them send their goods to small markets in other cities and towns in north India – and have intellectual property rights over the same. Most of the merchants who own these brands have traded in the market for over two decades now.

Others on list

Around six to seven kilometres away from Gandhi Nagar, a market popular for counterfeit automobile parts, especially car accessories, sprawls along both sides of the road connecting the Old Delhi Railway Station to Kashmere Gate – the other Delhi market in the 2016 list of notorious markets. In the past two years, the market has witnessed several police raids and over a dozen arrests.

The auto parts market at Kashmere Gate, also in the list of notorious markets. Image credit: Abhishek Dey
The auto parts market at Kashmere Gate, also in the list of notorious markets. Image credit: Abhishek Dey

“The raids were conducted on the basis of complaints received from the concerned companies. In all cases, police teams were accompanied by complainants to examine the goods recovered from possession of the accused,” a senior police official said.

Among other Indian markets which were earlier listed in the United States Trade Representative’s review are Manish Market and Lamington Road in Mumbai and Chenoy Trade Centre and Hong Kong Bazaar in Hyderabad. In the 2016 review, the Indian government has been accused of taking no “meaningful” and “effective response” with regard to earlier lists.

“The United States continues to raise the importance of IPR protection and enforcement with India, underscoring the need to combat counterfeiting and piracy in both online and physical markets. The United States encourages India to take sustained and coordinated enforcement action at these and other previously-listed markets, as well as numerous other nominated markets,” the agency said in its review.

(* Names of the shop owners and traders who spoke on the condition of anonymity have been changed)