PepsiCo urged to withdraw cases against Gujarat potato farmers

Farmers unions, rights groups seek intervention of government

PepsiCo has filed cases of IPR infringement against farmers | Reuters PepsiCo has filed cases of IPR infringement against farmers | Reuters

Leading farmers unions and rights advocacy groups have demanded that the PepsiCo immediately withdraw all legal suits it has slapped on many potato farmers in different districts of Gujarat. The Indian subsidiary of the US multinational company, PepsiCo India Holdings (PIH) Pvt Ltd, has filed cases of IPR infringement through 2018-19 against farmers for allegedly using potato variety FL 2027/FCS without permission.

At a press conference in Ahmedabad on Wednesday, Kapil Shah of Vadodara-based organisation Jatan, demanded that the Central and state governments step in to protect farmers' rights as enshrined in the laws of the country, particularly the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001. 

Pepsi uses this variety of potatoes in its popular brand Lays. The company has said that the registration of a potato variety denominated as FL-2027, also known by the trade name of FC-5, in India's Plant Varieties Registry in February 2016, entitles it to an exclusive right over the registered variety. It has also said that farmers are not authorised to grow this variety. 

According to Vinay Mahajan of Loknaad, Section 39 (1) (iv) of the said Act clearly states that notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, a farmer shall be deemed to be entitled to save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share or sell his farm produce including seed of a variety protected under this Act in the same manner as he was entitled before the coming into the force of this Act, provided that the farmer shall not be entitled to sell branded seed of a variety protected under this Act (sic). 

According to Shah, from the four farmers on whom the cases have been slapped, the company has asked for a total compensation of more than Rs 4 crore. 

He claimed that the company's annual purchase of potato is 60,000 ton. 

National vice president of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, Ambubhai Patel, also demanded that the company unconditionally withdraw cases against the farmers. 

In a letter to the Central government, they have mentioned that including the fresh cases, a total of nine cases have been filed against the farmers. 

The letter signed by eminent citizens of the country also asks to put out a public statement, which should also be made a submission to the commercial court and high court in Ahmedabad where the farmers are being sued, explaining the farmers' rights as enshrined in the said Act. 

They have also demanded cost of the legal suits from the National Gene Fund. 

Shah said that they are not aware about how many farmers have been growing this variety of potato. They also alleged that the company used sting operation to document farmers using this particular variety of potato. 

This particular variety of potato are considered good to make chips. 

The farmers on whom cases have been filed were not in contract with the company to grow particular potatoes, Shah said.