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PepsiCo India withdraws lawsuits against 9 Gujarat potato growers

Farmer activists call for proactive measures by govt to uphold farmers' rights over seeds

Vinay Umarji  |  Ahmedabad 

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The legal tussle between India Holdings Ltd and nine growers in Gujarat end Friday when the company withdrew its legal suits on Friday.

India had earlier sought and obtained an early hearing to withdraw its suits, four in commercial court of Ahmedabad and five in district court of Modasa of Sabarkantha district.

The company had sued nine in Gujarat, including five last year and four this year, for allegedly buying seeds and selling of the FL 2027 variety registered by for use in making ‘Lays’ chips.

The withdrawal of cases comes after the company held discussions with the government which had assured long term and amicable resolution of all issues around seed protection.

As part of the legal suit, PepsiCo had claimed exclusive rights over the said variety under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001, seeking damages worth Rs one crore from at least four

The cases had attracted global attention with several farmer groups, organisations and activists rallying behind the sued potato growers of Gujarat, seeking government support in protecting farmers' seed sovereignty and calling for boycott of PepsiCo products.

On its part, PepsiCo India stated that its submission in the court on Friday was in sync with its earlier statement.

"Over the years, PepsiCo has developed a best in class collaborative potato farming program which has benefited thousands of across the country. The program which included several market awareness initiatives has resulted in farmers getting access to higher yields, enhanced quality, training in best-in-class practices and better prices, all leading to improved livelihoods. To safeguard the larger interest of farmers, PepsiCo India was compelled to take judicial recourse to protect its registered variety," the company's earlier statement read.

"PepsiCo from the very start had also offered an amicable settlement to farmers. After discussions with the Government, the Company has agreed to withdraw cases against farmers. We are relying on the said discussions to find a long term and an amicable resolution of all issues around seed protection. The company remains deeply committed to the thousands of farmers we work with across the country and towards ensuring adoption of best farming practices," the PepsiCo India spokesperson had further stated.

Farmers activists, however, have stated that their agitation for asserting farmers' rights over seeds would not discontinue with the withdrawal of cases against the potato growers. Apparently, around 30 such farmer groups, organisations and activists have also come together to form a forum called Beej Adhikar Manch (Seeds' Rights Forum) to continue the agitation.

On Friday, Kapil Shah, coordinator of the forum, reiterated that Section 39 (1)(iv) of the PPV&FR Act 2001 upheld the rights of farmers of India for seeds over

The forum also reiterated its objections to discussions held between PepsiCo and government as unacceptable to farmers.

"Any reference to some discussions that PepsiCo India was having with government was not acceptable to us, when such discussions did not involve the affected farmers and farmers’ organisations and when there was no need for such discussions in the first instance. Gujarat government can neither persuade nor dictate to farmers of this state that they need to take permission from some company that is claiming exclusive rights which then means that the government itself would be misleading the farmers on the law of the land," said Rajendra Khimani, President of Gujarat Association of Agricultural Sciences on behalf of Beej Adhikar Manch.

First Published: Fri, May 10 2019. 22:31 IST