PepsiCo Case: Potato Farmers in Gujarat Seek Compensation for HarassmentMay 04, 2019 16:32
(Image source from: The Sentinel)
The potato farmers, activists, and farmer leaders in Gujarat on Friday called on PepsiCo to pay a compensation to the cultivators for causing harassment by suing nine farmers in the Indian state for alleged intellectual property “rights infringement” on grounds that they “illegally” grew its registered potato variety used to make Lay’s chips.
The move by Gujarat activists came a day after PepsiCo announced that it would withdraw cases filed against the farmers.
Farmers’ bodies of Gujarat and the country including Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, together with non-governmental organizations and activists, agitated by PepsiCo’s earlier decision have set sights on forming a central body - Seed Sovereignty Forum - to protect farmers' rights on seeds.
"We are apprehensive because PepsiCo's statement yesterday does not offer anything new. The company had earlier told the court that it will withdraw cases on two conditions - either farmer give up using company's seeds or farmers become part of contract farming with the company," farm rights activist Kapil Shah of NGO 'Jatan'told reporters.
"We demand that the withdrawal of cases must be unconditional. We also want the company to pay compensation to these farmers for causing harassment. The law is crystal clear and it says that farmers' or cultivators' rights will always supersede the rights of seed breeders. Farmers' right overseed is non-negotiable," he said.
The food company sued nine farmers from Aravalli and Sabarkantha districts in two separate courts under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Right Act, 2001, for allegedly growing a variety of potatoesand sought damages ranging from Rs 20 lakh to Rs 1 crore from each of the farmer.
Shah said the issue touches farmers of the entire country and not just of Gujarat.
"After this issue cropped up, around 25 national and regional organizations working for farmers decided to come under one roof to form 'Seed Sovereignty Forum'. We will hold a meeting today to devise an action plan to fight against such cases in the future and formulate a long-term strategy to ensure that farmers' rights are not snatched away," said Shah.
Shah was accompanied by four farmers of Sabarkantha district, who were sued by the multinational corporation. Office-bearers of the BKS and several other farm rights activists were also in attendance.
Calling for spreading awareness among farmers about laws that protect them, the registrar of Gujarat Vidyapith, Rajendra Khimani said: "All the Acts are in English, not in the language understood by the majority of farmers. As a result, they are not aware of their rights. There is a need to make such laws available in local languages. We also need to keep a check on any attempt aimed at diluting such pro-farmer laws."
One of the farmers sued by PepsiCo, Chhabil Patel, said they used rejected potatoes as seeds, which is a natural practice in villages.
"We have been wrongly framed. After grading, PepsiCo takes only large-size potatoes (to make chips), while small potatoes were discarded. Such rejected stock is available everywhere. We sowed those potatoes only. We have now realized that even the law allows us to do so," Patel, who hails from Sabarkantha, said.
PepsiCo India has agreed to withdraw cases against farmers after holding talks with the government, the food company said in a statement issued on Thursday.
"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 statement said.
By Sowmya Sangam