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Potato farmers hit back at PepsiCo, seek compensation for harassment

Call for nation-wide boycott of PepsiCo products, want unconditional withdrawal of legal case

Vinay Umarji  |  Ahmedabad 

Three of the potato farmers sued by PepsiCo along with farmer union leaders and farmers’ rights activists asserted that Indian farmers' seed freedoms were non-negotiable.

Calling for an "unconditional" withdrawal of its legal case, sued potato growers in on Friday said that they have sought compensation from Holdings Ltd. (PIH) for harassment caused to them due to the lawsuit.

In a press briefing on Friday, three of the sued by PepsiCo along with farmer union leaders and farmers’ rights activists asserted that Indian farmers' seed freedoms were non-negotiable.

With support from other and activists, including RSS-affiliate Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), the potato growers have not only sought compensation but also called for boycott of the food giant's products. "PepsiCo should withdraw the cases unconditionally. The also company has to pay us compensation for all the harassment we were put through even though the law is clear on the subject," said Bipin Patel in a media briefing on Friday. Patel is one of the four potato growers against whom PepsiCo had filed a suit.

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"We would like the state government to reveal the full details of the ongoing discussions with the company since we are demanding an unconditional withdrawal based on a reiteration of Sec. 39 (1) (iv) of PPV&FR Act 2001, and anything else is not acceptable," the sued potato growers said.

PepsiCo had earlier on Thursday said that it has agreed to withdraw cases against potato growers in after discussions with the government. The company had sued nine in Gujarat, including five last year and four this year, for allegedly buying seeds and selling potato of the FL 2027 variety registered by PepsiCo. The said variety is used by PepsiCo for making 'Lays' chips.

"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 spokesperson had stated.

The sued also called for increased awareness of the legislation around plant varieties among farmers across the country. "The court proceedings came as a shock to us, including the amount of damages that the company was claiming. It was clearly trying to intimidate and harass us. Its real intention might have been to wipe out competitors from the market, but it chose to harass farmers. The company has to pay us compensation for all the harassment we were put through," they said.

On the other hand, Maganbhai Patel of BKS said that it was possible to get a large multinational company to back out very quickly, given that the PPV&FR Act 2001 was clearly on the farmers' side.

ALSO READ: From output surge to lack of cold storage, issues that ail potato farmers

The potato growers and farmer activists also sought support from the government for pressuring PepsiCo to agree to their demands for compensation. "We are not going to approach courts for compensation but shall take a call as and when PepsiCo files for withdrawal of cases in the courts," the farmers said.

On Friday, farmers and activists also announced forming of a new outfit called Bij Adhikar Manch (Rights for Seeds Forum). A meeting of 30 members under the new entity, comprising farmers, farm leaders, civil right representatives, lawyers and scientists, was also held on Friday in Ahmedabad where the forum decided to call for a nation-wide boycott of PepsiCo products.

The forum will now continue to fight for farmers' sovereign rights seeds, said its co-ordinator Kapil Shah.

Friday also saw officials hold a meeting with government officials including chief secretary of the state and additional chief secretary for agriculture, Government of Gujarat in the state capital Gandhinagar. Addressing mediapersons after the meeting in Gandhinagar, Jagrut Kotecha, vice president snacks, PepsiCo India said, "We had come to update the state government about the statement we had issued earlier on Thursday and are looking forward to an amicable solution for everyone."

When asked about withdrawal of cases against the potato growers, Kotecha told mediapersons that PepsiCo India would withdraw the cases as and when the matter came up for hearing before the court. The next hearing in the matter has been scheduled for June 12 at a commercial court in Ahmedabad.

First Published: Fri, May 03 2019. 18:41 IST