PepsiCo withdraws all cases against potato farmers

A farmer in Hooghly, West Bengal, growing the Atlanta variety of potato in contract with Pepsico India.

A farmer in Hooghly, West Bengal, growing the Atlanta variety of potato in contract with Pepsico India.

PepsiCo has withdrawn all its cases against nine Gujarat farmers who grew its protected potato variety used to make Lays chips, including cases seeking damages of ₹1.05 crore each from small farmers. The battle between farmers groups and the multinational company moves now from the judiciary to the government’s next actions.

Hailing this as a victory, farmers groups on Friday demanded that the State and Centre take a clear stand that plant variety registrations are subject to farmers’ rights to grow and sell such registered varieties, as long as they do not sell branded seed.

PepsiCo withdrew its legal suits against four farmers in an Ahmedabad commercial court, as well as cases against five farmers in the Modasa district court on Friday. Two other cases against large farmers and traders were withdrawn in a Deesa court earlier this week.

A PepsiCo spokesperson said the decision came after discussions with the government, and that the company wanted a long-term amicable resolution of seed protection issues.

“PepsiCo must apologise to the farmers for filing false lawsuits against them,” said Anand Yagnik, a lawyer who represented four of the farmers, speaking to journalists in Ahmedabad. “It was an act of intimidation, but the farmers did not surrender to the company.”

“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,” said a statement from the Beej Adhikaar Manch, a newly formed association that seeks to protect farmers’ seed sovereignty.It said a public campaign would continue to urge the government to stand with farmers and instruct all registrants in the Plant Varieties Registry of India that their registration is conditional to the rights guaranteed to farmers in the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Authority Act, 2001.

“The law is crystal clear. Nothing less than a reiteration of farmers overriding rights will be acceptable to us and if the 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 the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, a farmers group affiliated to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

“Any reference to some discussions that PepsiCo India was having with the government was not acceptable to us, when such discussions did not involve the affected farmers and farmers’ organisations and when there was no need for such discussions in the first instance. The Gujarat government can neither persuade nor dictate to farmers of the State that they need to take permission from some company that is claiming exclusive rights which then means that the government itself would be misleading the farmers on the law of the land”, said Rajendra Khimani, President of the Gujarat Association of Agricultural Sciences.

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Printable version | May 18, 2022 6:04:34 am |