Ahmedabad: The US food and beverages giant PepsiCo, which has filed legal suits against four potato farmers of Gujarat, on Friday offered an out-of-court settlement expressing its willingness to withdraw the cases if certain terms are agreed upon.
The company had sued the farmers for illegally growing and selling a breed of potato (FL 2027) as it is exclusively registered to the company under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act, 2001 (PPV&FR Act).
During the hearing in Ahmedabad’s commercial court on Friday, Advocate Anand Yagnik filed his appearance on behalf of all farmers in the four suits and sought time to file a reply.
PepsiCo told the court that it wants to settle the dispute with the farmers. According to the terms suggested by the plaintiff, the farmers can either give assurance that they will not use the registered variety or enter into an agreement by which they can only purchase seeds from the company and sell them their produce.
Advocate Anand Yagnik said that the proposal has been put forth to the farmers and a reply shall be sent to PepsiCo soon.
“We will discuss it with the farmers and based on that, we will file our reply,’’ Anand Yagnik, told reporters after the hearing. The next hearing is scheduled for June 12.
PepsiCo claims it has sole rights to grow the particular variety of tubers for the manufacture of its Lay's brand of chips. PepsiCo India Holdings Pvt Ltd had told the court last week that it uses a registered variety of potatoes called FL 2027, which is a hybrid of FL 1867 and Wischip varieties, to manufacture chips for its brand.
Over 190 farmers, scientists, activists and unions from across the country have signed a protest letter in support of the sued individuals. “Potato-growing farmers have nothing to worry and we can’t allow such intimidation as we will fight against it in court as well as on the streets if needed,” Ambubhai Patel, Vice President of the Bharatiya Kishan Sangh had said on Wednesday.
“The cases are specifically with regard to a particular potato variety with a denomination of FL-2027, reportedly known as FC-5 potato, for which the company claims to have obtained exclusive PVP (Plant Variety Protection) rights in India in 2016 (valid till 2031) from the authority,” Kapil Shah, activist based in Vadodara had said in press conference this week.
“At this point of time, it is not clear if the farmers were aware of what they had grown and even if they did, that is immaterial when it comes to the statutory rights that they have,” Shah had said.
Meanwhile, the farmers’ leaders have said that the PPV&FR Act has always been projected as a law to protect farmers’ rights.
“We believe that the intimidation and legal harassment of farmers are happening because farmers are not fully aware of the rights contained in this statute,” the farmers’ body had said in a letter to the chairperson of the Delhi-based Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority. “Plant Breeders Rights granted in India are meant to be unique and different from those granted anywhere else due to the farmers’ rights orientation and provisions of the law. It is in this context that we urge the authority to protect the rights of farmers.”