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Pepsico Sues Nine Farmers In Gujarat

Pepsico Sues Nine Farmers In Gujarat

The US food and beverage giant Pepsico has recently come to the limelight for having sued four Indian farmers for illegally growing a variety of potatoes that are apparently registered by the company for its exclusive use.

Pepsico India Holdings Pvt. Ltd. moved a commercial court in Ahmedabad claiming damages for the infringement of its rights under Section 64 of the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act, 2001 (PPV&FR Act) against four farmers belonging to the Aravalli and Sabarkantha villages of Gujarat. According to the claims raised by the US giant, the farmers were illegally growing and selling potatoes of the variety FL 2027, which is a hybrid of the varieties FL 1867 and Wischip. This variety of potatoes are traded in India by the name of FC-5 and had been exclusively registered by the company in 2016 for using them to manufacture the potato chips sold under the brand name of Lays. Under the PPV&FR Act, the company, therefore, remains the registered breeder of this particular variety.  It has given out numerous licenses to farmers in Punjab and other states to breed this variety of potatoes. But such licenses have been issued on a system of a buyback.

The company claimed damages of Rupees 1.05 crore each from the four farmers. They found out about this activity in the month of January after which they collected samples of the potatoes and analysed them to verify their type, variety and quality. These samples were sent to the in-house laboratories of Pepsico, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the Shimla-based Central Potato Research Institute for DNA analysis.

Based on the evidence, the commercial court was satisfied that the Petitioner has a prima facie case in its favour and consequently directed the farmers to file their replies showing why they have not infringed the rights of the Petitioner. The court also passed a temporary stay order against the farmers from further growing or dealing in the said potatoes.

On the request of the Petitioner, the court appointed a court commissioner to conduct an inquiry into the matter, collect samples and send them to the appropriate research centre for analysis. It further directed the police in the state to provide the court commissioner with protection and conduct videography and photography of the proceedings, lest the farmers dispose of the present batches of potatoes and destroy all evidence. The court will again hear the matter on the 26th of April, 2019.

Another fact that recently came to light is that Pepsico has sued a total of nine farmers for the same reason in the past 2 years. This was followed by a raucous among numerous activists across the country, especially farmers’ rights activists, farmers’ unions and other farmers’ groups. They have launched a campaign to fight against the intimidation caused by Pepsico and other companies of the like. Their basic stance is that the decision of the court may set unfavourable precedent for other variety of crops and damage the rights of the farmers permanently, they have sought protection of the farmers under Section 39 of the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001, 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”.

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