Priscilla JebarajNEW DELHI ,
New worry: Farmers claim that the law does not prohibit them from cultivating the variety and sharing the seeds .
They face demand for ₹1.05 crore in damages for growing Lays variety, want government to step in
Just days after multi-billion dollar conglomerate PepsiCo sued four Gujarati farmers, asking them to pay ₹1.05 crore each as damages for ‘infringing its rights’ by growing the potato variety used in its Lays chips, farmers groups have launched a campaign calling for government intervention.
The case is coming up for hearing in an Ahmedabad court on Friday.
Warning that the case could set a precedent for other crops, farmers groups are pointing out that the law allows them to grow and sell any variety of crop or even seed as long as they don’t sell branded seed of registered varieties.
The farmers want the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority (PPV&FRA) to make a submission in court on their behalf and fund legal costs through the National Gene Fund.
When asked for a response, a PepsiCo India spokesperson said: “Given the issue is sub judice, it would not be proper to offer detailed comments.”
T.K. Nagarathna, the PPV&FRA registrar who has jurisdiction for vegetable crops, said that the case had come to the notice of the Authority and it was looking into it. “We can take action based on the court order,” she told The Hindu.
“These farmers are small, holding around 3-4 acres on an average, and had grown a potato crop from farm-saved seed after they accessed the potato seed locally in 2018,” according to a letter sent to the PPV&FRA by farmers groups. They alleged that PepsiCo hired a private detective agency to pose as potential buyers and take secret video footage, and collect samples from farmers’ fields without disclosing its real intent. PepsiCo then filed suit, the letter said. It added that at least nine farmers in three districts have been charged since 2018.
On April 9, an Ahmedabad commercial court judge granted an ex-parte interim injunction against the farmers and appointed a commissioner to prepare an inventory, take samples and send them to a government lab for analysis. The case is coming up again on April 26.
PepsiCo has invoked Section 64 of the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001 to claim infringement of its rights. However, farmers groups cite Section 39 of the same Act, which specifically says that a farmer is allowed “to save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share or sell his farm produce including seed of a variety protected under this Act” so long as he does not sell “branded seed”.
Farmers groups warned that the case could have a snowballing effect on other crops. “These are among the first cases of alleged IPR infringement against farmers in India in a post-WTO world. Wrongly decided, these could set a wrong precedent impacting farmers’ livelihoods quite adversely,” said Badribhai Joshi of the Gujarat Khedut Samaj, in a statement.