New Delhi: After it was reported on May 1 that the Gujarat government was trying an ‘out-of-court’ settlement of the cases filed by multinational PepsiCo against nine potato farmers, the Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA)—a farmers’ rights advocacy platform—has opposed the move.
Stating that an ‘out-of-court’ settlement would be a great disservice to the farmers, ASHA put out a press statement on May 2 saying that “nothing less than a clear reiteration of Section 39(1)(iv) of the Protection of Plant Varieties & Farmers Rights (PPV&FR) Act 2001 is satisfactory and justifiable.”
Also read: Potato Farmers Seek Govt. Help After PepsiCo Slaps Rs 1 Cr Lawsuit
This specific section of the Act provides an entitlement to farmers of India to cultivate any variety that they like, including PPV-registered varieties.
“It is clear that Section 39(1)(iv) is applicable irrespective of source of seed, type of seed, type of registrant, type of crop, and to who and how the harvest was sold. Nothing matters except whether the farmer has sold branded seeds or not, as far as farmers’ rights are concerned,” said ASHA.
It emphasised that “implementation of any Act requires the ‘legislative intent’ also to be upheld.
In this case, it is evident from the very title of the Act, that farmers’apriori seed rights are upheld over the breeder’s economic right over the PVP-protected variety.”
American food and beverages giant PepsiCo sued nine farmers from Sabarkantha and Aravalli districts in Gujarat in two separate courts for allegedly growing a variety of potatoes that the corporation has “registered” — claiming plant variety protection (PVP) rights over it. PepsiCo has sought damages of as much as Rs 1 crore from each of the farmers.
Also watch: Pepsico's Case Against Potato Farmers is Attempted Blackmail
“Earlier the state government’s Deputy Chief Minister gave a media statement on 27th April 2019 that the state government would implead in the case. The government’s thinking seems to have changed now, however. It is also now talking about an out-of-court settlement apparently, even as PepsiCo proposed a ‘settlement’ in the last Court hearing on April 26th 2019,” said Kapil Shah of Gujarat-based NGO Jatan as quoted in the press release.
“In any of these attempts, there should be absolutely no compromise on farmers’ rights and seed sovereignty. The state government should therefore make Section 39 (1) (iv) as the basis of any settlement, if at all, and anything less than that is unacceptable. It would have failed all the farmers in India and not just the sued farmers in question, if it succumbs to corporate lobbying here. Indian farmers cannot pardon that.”
Gujarat Deputy Chief Minister Nitinbhai Ratilal Patel had announced that the government would intervene by impleading in the ongoing case, following pressure from farmers’ organisations and ordinary citizens who were outraged by PepsiCo’s actions against the farmers.
But now the government is attempting a settlement instead.
Also read: No Out Of Court Settlement, PepsiCo Must Withdraw Case Against Farmers: AIKS
“The Government of Gujarat must know that not only the Gujarat farmers, but the whole world is watching the developments in the case, with citizens standing firmly on the side of farmers. If the Government wants to act in favour of farmers as announced, it should keep its focus on the farming community of the nation, beyond the farmers who have been sued in unethical and illegal way,” said ASHA.
Legal expert Shalini Bhutani said, “There was a clear legislative intent behind the creation of the PPV&FR Act, 2001. Many farmers’ groups, civil society organisations, intellectual property experts, public interest lawyers, agriculture scientists, plant breeders and even the seed industry representatives were involved in the shaping of the statute in India. After the Bill was tabled in 1999 for the first time, it went to a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC). The JPC had held extensive consultations all over the country. Based on the comments it received, the Committee revised the Bill thoroughly and inplace of an inadequate Section 31 on farmers’ rights in the original Bill, the revised Bill had Section 39 (1) (iv) included, as it now exists in the Act.”
“During the Parliamentary debate on the Bill in August 2001, many lawmakers emphasised the need to not only acknowledge the contributions of farmers in conserving, improving and making available plant genetic resources for food and farming, but also to recognise them as breeders. Additionally, as relevant to this case, our lawmakers reiterated the need to protect farmers’ right as cultivators (of both crop and seed), using seed from even varieties protected by intellectual property rights (IPR). This legislative intent is very important to note, in any interpretation of farmers’ legally guaranteed rights in this Act,” Bhutani added.
Kavitha Kuruganti of ASHA said, “PepsiCo India should understand clearly that this is India, and not USA, where hundreds of farmers have been sued by giant seed industry like Monsanto Inc. that has milked millions of dollars from farmers.”
“PepsiCo should withdraw the cases unconditionally, explicitly acknowledging that its rights under the law are indeed subject to farmers’ rights. It is PepsiCo that should be asked to sign an undertaking that this will not happen to our farmers again.”
Kuruganti said PepsiCo should apologise to the farmers and compensate them adequately for “trespassing their farms, breaching their privacy, video recording without farmer’s knowledge, intimidation, unnecessary expenses and harassment they have been subjected to.”