Farmer bodies protest PepsiCo suits against potato growers

Last Updated: Thu, Apr 25, 2019 11:29 hrs
FILE PHOTO: Bottles of Pepsi are pictured at a grocery store in Pasadena

Ahmedabad: A group of farmers organisations, including the RSS- affiliated Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), on Wednesday demanded withdrawal of legal suits filed by food and beverages giant PepsiCo India against nine potato growers in north Gujarat for growing a particular variety of potatoes, which the company claims it has sole rights to make its popular brand of Lay's chips.

These are FL2027 or FC5 variety of potatoes, which PepsiCo has registered under its name.

"PepsiCo's claims are untenable and an attempt to intimidate farmers to wipe out competition. We demand that the company immediately and unconditionally withdraw all the cases against farmers," BKS national Vice President Ambubhai Patel told reporters.

He expressed his shock that "PepsiCo has wrongfully used private detective agencies to entrap farmers through video-recorded sting operations and implicate them".

The company had filed four suits in a commercial court and five in a north Gujarat court seeking Rs 1 crore each from nine farmers, alleging infringement of intellectual property rights.

PepsiCo claims exclusive rights by virtue of Plant Variety Certificate under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act, 2001 and filed cases against the farmers in the Commercial Court at the city civil court in Ahmedabad. It had alleged the farmers were illegally growing, producing, selling this particular variety of potato without permission in violation of Sections 64 and 65 of the Act.

Other than Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, representatives of Gujarat Khedut Samaj, Jatan Trust and several other civil society organizations have now sought immediate intervention of the Central and state governments to protect the farmers' rights.

"India had designed a sui generis law of 2001 in compliance with World Trade Organisation's agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights. Under this statute, farmers' have rights under Section 39 with regard to seeds and planting material irrespective of any other clause in the Act," Kapil Shah of Jatan said.

These representatives have sent a memorandum to Dr K.V. Prabhu, Chairperson, Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Authority, under the Union Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, urging him to take immediate action.

The Ahmedabad commercial court has, meanwhile, already prevented the farmers from growing or selling the potatoes till the next hearing on April 26 and sought their replies on the allegations leveled by PepsiCo.

The court also appointed a Court Commissioner to conduct an inquiry into the dispute, prepare inventory of the potatoes, take samples and send them to government laboratories and the Potato Research Centre at Shimla for analysis.