Ahmedabad: PepsiCo India on Friday withdrew its lawsuits filed against Gujarat farmers for allegedly growing a variety of potato for which the food and beverages giant claimed to have secured exclusive rights. However, the farmers' groups, are of the opinion that the real ball in the government's court, who need to step up their efforts to uphold rights of the crop growers.
PepsiCo India Holdings Pvt Ltd had sought and obtained an early hearing in its cases against four Gujarat potato farmers in the Commercial Court of Ahmedabad and five farmers in district court of Modasa in North Gujarat. The company on Friday said that it has withdrawn all its legal suits.
Reacting to the development, farmers' rights groups said that while PepsiCo India was taught a lesson by alert citizens, it is now the "responsibility of the government to pro-actively take up measures to uphold farmers' rights".
Earlier, farmer leaders and activists in Gujarat had launched a protest against US food and beverages giant PepsiCo after it sued nine farmers in the state for allegedly illegally growing and selling a kind of potato exclusively registered by the company. PepsiCo claims it has sole rights to grow the particular variety of tubers for the manufacture of its Lay's brand of chips.
"This development today in no way means that the public campaign is over. While the defendant farmers at least have the profit-hungry MNC off their back in court, the battle is only half won on the field. The Government of India had maintained an ominous silence on the legal situation in the country on farmers’ seed freedoms, taking cover of the matter being sub judice. Now it must make it amply clear that such litigation is not acceptable”, the activists said.
Farmers' advocate Anand Yagnik stated that rarely it happens that multinationals withdraws suits that too having litigated against marginalised and downtrodden. "These farmers are into subsistence farming and not commercial farming. This is the first instance where PepsiCo has withdrawn suits not only against the farmers of Sabarkantha but also against Aravalli and Banaskantha districts and with this withdrawal the ill-conceived initiative of PepsiCo to threaten farmers with litigation and brow with them has come to an end," he added.
"It must be kept in mind that in India right of farmer to cultivate land and agricultural produce is far more superior than the right of multinational companies seeking protection in the name of registration because law of India allows farmers to use even registered seeds and take produce. The only exception is the farmers are not supposed to sell the registered seeds resorting to any type of branding or labelling," Anand Yagnik said.
“When PepsiCo India made an application in February 2012 to the Protection of Plant Varieties & Farmers Rights Authority for the registration of a particular potato variety, it had given a Declaration that it shall abide by all the provisions and guidelines of the PPV&FR Act 2001. This then means Section 39 (1) (iv) and the rights of farmers of India therein. It is highly objectionable that having agreed to compliances of registration, now company is trying to find ‘long term amicable solution to protect its variety’ with the help of Govt”, said Kapil Shah, Coordinator, Beej Adhikar Manch, a newly formed platform to protect farmers’ seed sovereignty.
“The law is crystal clear. Nothing less than a reiteration of farmers overriding rights will be acceptable to us and if government wants to help farmers, it should actually get an undertaking from PepsiCo India that it will not resort to these intimidation tactics ever again” said Gabhubhai Chowdhari of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh.
“It is clear from this episode that the judiciary itself need to be educated on the legislative history and intended objectives of this very unique law PPV&FR Act 2001. The cases would not have progressed and injunction obtained by the company against the farmers, if the applications got dismissed at the very threshold of admission”, they said. The state judicial academies must immediately commence IPR literacy. It is also clear that farmers in the country also need to be educated about the law. We will press for all these measures, so that farmers’ rights are not trampled upon in India”, said a farmers’ rights activists.