New Delhi: Farmers groups have launched a campaign calling for government intervention after multi-billion dollar conglomerate PepsiCo sued at least nine Gujarati farmers, asking them to pay ₹1.05 crore each as damages for ‘infringing its rights’ by growing the potato variety used in its Lay’s chips.
As reported by The Hindu, warning that the case could set a precedent for other crops, farmers groups are pointing out that the law allows them to grow and sell any variety of crop or even seed as long as they don’t sell branded seed of registered varieties. The case is coming up for hearing in an Ahmedabad court on Friday.
The farmers reportedly want the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority (PPV&FRA) to make a submission in court on their behalf and fund legal costs through the National Gene Fund.
A response from PepsiCo India spokesperson as reported by The Hindu says “Given the issue is sub judice, it would not be proper to offer detailed comments.”
PPV&FRA registrar- T.K. Nagarathna, who has jurisdiction for vegetable crops, said that the case had come to the notice of the Authority and it was looking into it and would take action based on the court order.
According to a letter sent to the PPV&FRA by farmers groups, “these farmers are small, holding around 3-4 acres on an average, and had grown a potato crop from farm-saved seed after they accessed the potato seed locally in 2018”. They have further alleged that PepsiCo hired a private detective agency to pose as potential buyers and take secret video footage, and collect samples from farmers’ fields without disclosing its real intent.
“PepsiCo apparently got a tip-off that the farmers were growing ‘its registered variety’ of FL-2027 and in a completely unacceptable manner, hired a private detective agency to pose as potential buyers in front of the sued farmers, to take secret video footage and collect samples from farmers’ fields sans disclosing its real intent. Later on, PepsiCo India Holdings got the samples tested in its own laboratory and also sent the same to ICAR-CPRI, Shimla and got reports confirming that the varieties being grown by the farmers are indeed FL-2027 or FC-5.
Armed with this information, and presenting an estimated damage of more than one crore rupees against each farmer, the MNC filed legal suits against four farmers in early April 2019 (and we came to know later on that similar cases were filed against 5 other farmers in another district in Gujarat last year and there could be more) and PIH even obtained injunction orders from the Court” the letter further stated.
On April 9, an Ahmedabad commercial court judge granted an ex-parte interim injunction against the farmers and appointed a commissioner to prepare an inventory, take samples and send them to a government lab for analysis. The case is coming up again on April 26.
PepsiCo has invoked Section 64 of the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001 to claim infringement of its rights. However, farmers groups cite Section 39 of the same Act, 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”.
Farmers groups warned that the case could have a snowballing effect on other crops. Badribhai Joshi of the Gujarat Khedut Samaj, in a statement said, “these are among the first cases of alleged Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) infringement against farmers in India in a post- WTO world. Wrongly decided, these could set a wrong precedent impacting farmers’ livelihoods quite adversely.”