In a major development, the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority (PPV&FRA) has revoked a plant variety protection (PVP) certificate granted to PepsiCo India Holding on a potato variety (FL-2027) on multiple grounds.

Acting on a plea by farm activist Kavitha Kuruganti, the Authority felt that the grant of the certificate was based on “incorrect information” furnished by the applicant. It also concurred with the petitioner’s argument that the certificate was granted to a person “not eligible for protection”.

Armed with the right assigned to it on the variety, PepsiCo had filed cases against nine farmers in Gujarat in two courts during 2019 and demanded a huge compensation. This triggered a furore with the farmers demanding withdrawal of the cases. Pepsi withdrew the cases after the discussions it held with the State government in May 2019.

‘No sufficient info’

The petitioner contended that the breeder did not provide the registrar with sufficient information, documents or material required for registration. She had argued that the grant of the certificate “is not in the public interest”.

“This means that Pepsico’s varietal intellectual property rights (IPR) as granted in a plant variety certificate in February 2016 will be taken back by the Authority. The order is binding on the company and saves the farmers from the harassment,” Kuruganti said.

Reacting to the development, a PepsiCo India spokesperson said, “We are aware of the order passed by the PPVFR Authority and are in the process of reviewing the same. Hence, at this moment it would be premature to offer any detailed comments.” Shalini Bhutani, legal researcher and IPR expert in agriculture and biodiversity, termed the judgement “significant and historic”.

“It upholds farmers’ seed freedom as contained in Section 39 of the PPV&FR Act, which makes this law truly unique. The acceptance of the revocation application sends an important signal that farmers’ rights cannot be taken lightly by IPR-holders in the country,” Bhutani pointed out. Agriculture experts say that farmers’ right is an essential part of the IPR and that the government had come up with a sui generis (legal protection) law of PPVFR complying with the trade-related aspects of IPR agreement of the WTO.

“We are happy with the result of this case filed with the Authority and feel proud to be instrumental in setting up the precedent that asserts farmers’ rights. We are thankful to the farm activists also,” Bipinbai Patel, one of the farmers sued by PepsiCo India in 2019, said.

“The registrants’ rights are limited to only production of a variety and farmers have rights to produce seed and even sell seed of a protected variety provided it is unbranded,” Kapil Shah of Kisan Beej Adhikar Manch, said.

Kuruganti said the legislation was unambiguous that farmers have over-arching rights over what seed they can plant as well as what they were entitled to do with their produce from any variety, including seed of registered variety. “The only condition is that they may not sell seed of protected varieties in a branded fashion, knowingly,” she said.

“Despite the law being this clear, Pepsico India harassed and intimidated farmers and sued them for exorbitant levels of alleged damages in 2018 and 2019,” she said.

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