Industry

Pepsico agrees to withdraw cases against Gujarat farmers

A labourer shows potatoes at APMC Market yard in Ahmedabad on April 28, 2019.   | Photo Credit: Vijay Soneji

In a victory for Gujarat potato farmers dragged to court by PepsiCo for alleged rights infringement, the food and beverages giant says it has agreed to withdraw the cases.

“After discussions with the Government, the Company has agreed to withdraw cases against farmers. We are relying on the said discussions to find a long term and an amicable resolution of all issues around seed protection,” said a PepsiCo spokesperson on Thursday.

This decision applies to the nine farmers PepsiCo has sued over the last two years for allegedly growing its registered potato variety which is used for Lays chips.

Anand Yagnik, the lawyer representing four farmers from Sabarkantha district who were sued for ₹1.05 crore each, said “an unconditional withdrawal of litigation would be a great victory for the downtrodden and small farmers against a major corporate power”, but noted that the company is yet to communicate its decision to the court or to the farmers and their lawyer.

“It is not stated when it will implement its decision,” he said. “It is important that no wrong precedent is set, given that this is a test case which could affect other farmers across the country.”

The PepsiCo decision follows criticism from political parties and farmers rights groups, as well as boycott calls on global social media.

The multinational conglomerate seemed to have won an early victory when an Ahmedabad commercial court issued an ex-parte injunction against the farmers on April 9. However, by the next hearing on April 26, faced with a growing campaign by farmers groups, the company offered a settlement to the farmers on the condition that they give an undertaking not to grow the registered variety or to join its collaborative farming programme.

Outrage continued to grow over the weekend, with farmers groups across the political spectrum calling for boycotts and senior politicians from both the ruling BJP and opposition Congress slamming the company, in the midst of a Lok Sabha election putting the spotlight on farmers issues. On Saturday, the Gujarat government announced that it would back the farmers and join the legal case on their behalf. However, on Wednesday evening, deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel told reporters that the state government was working toward an out-of-court settlement “in a manner that it is helpful to farmers.”

Sources familiar with the latest development told The Hindu that PepsiCo had decided to withdraw the cases “backed by an assurance from the government for a long term amicable settlement”, adding that both the Gujarat state government and the Centre were involved in such an assurance to the company.

Some farmers groups objected to the idea of any “long term solution” being negotiated by the government. “The only long-term solution needed is already given in Section 39 of the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001 which allows any farmer to grow or sell produce even of registered varieties so long as he does not sell branded seed. The government only needs to enforce this law,” said Kapil Shah, a Gujarat based activist with the Jatan Trust and the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture.

He called for future certificates of registration issued to companies under the Act to specifically mention this clause supporting farmers rights over breeders rights. He also called for PepsiCo to apologise to the farmers it sued and offer them compensation, and give an undertaking not to sue farmers on this issue in future.

The multinational conglomerate seemed to have won an early victory when an Ahmedabad commercial court issued an ex-parte injunction against the farmers on April 9. However, by the next hearing on April 26, faced with a growing campaign by farmers groups, the company offered a settlement to the farmers on the condition that they give an undertaking not to grow the registered variety or to join its collaborative farming programme.

Outrage continued to grow over the weekend, with farmers groups across the political spectrum calling for boycotts and senior politicians from both the ruling BJP and opposition Congress slamming the company, in the midst of a Lok Sabha election putting the spotlight on farmers issues. On Saturday, the Gujarat government announced that it would back the farmers and join the legal case on their behalf. However, on Wednesday evening, deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel told reporters that the state government was working toward an out-of-court settlement “in a manner that it is helpful to farmers.”

Sources familiar with the latest development told The Hindu that PepsiCo had decided to withdraw the cases “backed by an assurance from the government for a long term amicable settlement”, adding that both the Gujarat state government and the Centre were involved in such an assurance to the company.

Some farmers groups objected to the idea of any “long term solution” being negotiated by the government. “The only long-term solution needed is already given in Section 39 of the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001 which allows any farmer to grow or sell produce even of registered varieties so long as he does not sell branded seed. The government only needs to enforce this law,” said Kapil Shah, a Gujarat based activist with the Jatan Trust and the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture.

He called for future certificates of registration issued to companies under the Act to specifically mention this clause supporting farmers rights over breeders rights. He also called for PepsiCo to apologise to the farmers it sued and offer them compensation, and give an undertaking not to sue farmers on this issue in future.

(With inputs from PTI)

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Printable version | Jan 10, 2021 10:40:52 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/business/Industry/pepsico-to-withdraw-case-against-gujarat-potato-farmers/article27013935.ece

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