Facing brickbats for its ₹4.2 crore lawsuit against four Gujarati potato farmers, food and beverages giant PepsiCo has offered to settle the case if the farmers stop growing the registered potato variety used in its Lays chips.
In an Ahmedabad civil court on Friday, PepsiCo’s lawyer offered a settlement on these terms: the farmers must give an undertaking that they will not use its registered variety and surrender their existing stocks, or must enter PepsiCo’s collaborative farming programme where farmers buy seeds from the company and sell produce back to the company
The lawyer for the farmers said they would need time to consider the offer, and to reply to the court. The next hearing is on June 12.
The Hindu had previously reported on the farmers groups’ campaign against the PepsiCo lawsuit.
PepsiCo has invoked Section 64 of the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001 to claim infringement of its rights. However, farmers groups cite Section 39 of the same Act, which specifically says that a farmer is allowed “to save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share or sell his farm produce including seed of a variety protected under this Act” so long as he does not sell “branded seed”.
For farmers groups as well as the corporate farming industry, the case is being seen as a precedent which could have a far-reaching impact on how other food crops are developed, sown and sold in the country.
“In this instance, we took judicial recourse against people who were illegally dealing in our registered variety,” said a PepsiCo India spokesperson. “This was done to protect our rights and safeguard the larger interest of farmers that are engaged with us and who are using and benefitting from seeds of our registered variety.”
“These are among the first cases of alleged IPR infringement against farmers in India in a post-WTO world. Wrongly decided, these could set a wrong precedent impacting farmers’ livelihoods quite adversely,” said Badribhai Joshi of the Gujarat Khedut Samaj.
“This is a test case of the corporate exploitation of farmers under the WTO regime,” said Hannan Mollah, general secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha, a farmers organisation which has called for a boycott of Lays chips and all other PepsiCo potato products.
Farmers groups have asked the Central government’s Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority (PPV&FRA) to make a submission in court on the farmers’ behalf and fund their legal costs through the National Gene Fund.