Agri Business

PepsiCo row: RSS-affiliate bats for farmers’ seed rights

Our Bureau Ahmedabad | Updated on April 30, 2019 Published on April 30, 2019

Says agitation against MNC will continue till growers’ rights are legally established

The ongoing battle between Gujarat’s potato growers and PepsiCo India Holdings Pvt Ltd has intensified with RSS-affiliate Bhartiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), a farmers’ body, calling for the government to legally establish farmers rights over seeds to prevent a repeat.

The Gujarat unit of the farmers’ body on Tuesday demanded that farmers rights over seeds should be established legally, irrespective of the crop, across the country.

“The current agitation is aimed at establishing farmers’ rights on seeds. This agitation will continue as long as there is no clarity in the law. Farmers must have supreme right over seeds, irrespective of any crop, and no individual, local or foreign organisation, company, scientists or government would have right to claim any right,” said Maganbhai Patel, member of the National Executive of BKS.

Also read: Farmers in a fizz as PepsiCo files suit over potato IPR violation

The farmers’ body is preparing to set up a coordination committee under the aegis of Kisan Adhikar Manch to establish the right of farmers over seeds and crops. This committee will have farmer organisations, agri-scientists, seeds associations, civil society representatives, lawyers and activists as members. “A first meeting will be convened soon and we will chart the future plan of action,” he said.

Court battles

This comes in the wake of a series of lawsuits filed by PepsiCo against potato growers in North Gujarat for allegedly violating its Intellectual Property Right (IPR) by growing a potato variety, FL2027 or FC5, on which PepsiCo claims exclusive right under Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001. The company uses this variety to produce chips under its Lay’s brand. The company has claimed ₹1 crore in ‘damages’ from the farmers.

In one such case, filed in the Gujarat High Court, two potato farmers from Banaskantha had objected to PepsiCo’s plea of allowing a Court Commissioner to visit and inspect their premises and cold-storage to take stock of the alleged infringed products (potato) as part of a probe ordered by the local commercial court. PepsiCo wanted the commissioner to visit farmers’ premises in Deesa, and cold storage units to assess the inventories of the infringed products allegedly stored by the growers. The local commercial court had allowed the Court Commissioner to carry out a restricted inspection of the premises of the farmers but not of the cold storage. On PepsiCo’s plea, the Gujarat High Court, however, allowed the Court Commissioner to inspect the cold storage, too.

Also read: PepsiCo offers to amicably settle potato row, but with riders; court stay on farmers remains for now

On Monday, the counsel for the two farmers sought a stay over the Gujarat High Court’s earlier order saying his clients wanted to approach the Supreme Court. The High Court refused both the prayers and placed the matter for further hearing on June 12.

Separate cases have been filed against nine other farmers in Commercial Court in Ahmedabad City Civil Court, and a local court in Modasa, Sabarkantha, for allegedly growing a registered variety without PepsiCo’s permission. The Ahmedabad Commercial Court will hear the case next on June 12.

However, after a huge uproar from civil society and activists in support of farmers’s rights, PepsiCo has offered an out-of-court settlement. The farmers are yet to decide on the offer.

Meanwhile, Gujarat deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel has hinted that the Gujarat government may become a party in the cases out of solidarity with the farmers. However, an official announcement has not yet been made.

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Published on April 30, 2019
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