PepsiCo withdraws cases against Gujarat potato growers

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Ahmedabad | Published: May 11, 2019 4:18:26 AM

On Friday, after having sought and obtained an early hearing in its cases against four potato potato growers in the Commercial Court of Ahmedabad and five farmers in district court of Modasa, the company decided to withdraw their legal suits.

All eight cases against 11 farmers of north Gujarat have been withdrawn by the foods and beverages giant.

In a major victory for Gujarat farmers, PepsiCo India Holdings on Friday withdrew all remaining legal suits unconditionally against as many as nine Potato growers from Sabarkantha and Arravali districts.

Last week, the multinational had withdrawn cases against two farmers belonging to Banaskantha district. With this, all eight cases against 11 farmers of north Gujarat have been withdrawn by the foods and beverages giant. On Friday, after having sought and obtained an early hearing in its cases against four potato potato growers in the Commercial Court of Ahmedabad and five farmers in district court of Modasa, the company decided to withdraw their legal suits.

“Rarely it happens that multinationals withdraw legal suits against marginalised and downtrodden. These farmers are into subsistence farming and not commercial farming. This is the first instance where PepsiCo has withdrawn suits not only against farmers of Sabarkantha but also against Arravali and Banaskantha, and with this withdrawal, the ill-conceived initiative of PepsiCo to threaten farmers with litigation and brow with them has come to an end,” said Anand Yagnik, advocate of the farmers.

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It must be kept in mind that in India right of farmer to cultivate land and agricultural produce is far more superior than the right of multinational companies seeking protection in the name of registration, because laws in India allow farmers to use even registered seeds and take produce, said Yagnik, adding that the only exception is that farmers are not supposed to sell registered seeds resorting to any type of branding or labelling.

Kapil Shah, coordinator of the Beej Adhikar Manch (BAM), a newly-formed platform to protect farmers’ seed sovereignty, said when PepsiCo India made an application in February 2012 to the Protection of Plant Varieties & Farmers Rights Authority for registration of a particular potato variety, it had given a declaration that it would abide by all the provisions and guidelines of the PPV&FR Act 2001, meaning Section 39 (1) (iv) and the rights of farmers of India therein, said Shah, adding that it is highly objectionable that having agreed to compliances of registration, the company is now trying to find ‘long-term amicable solution to protect its variety’ with the help of the government.

According to BAM, if PepsiCo would not tender apology to farmers with a month’s time and also wouldn’t give compensation of Rs 1 (in principle) for harassing potato growers, they would file counter litigations against the multinational in the same courts where it had filed legal suits against potato growers. Shah went on to say that PepsiCo officials not only tried to defame farmers, but also trespassed their properties and used detective agency against them.

The law is crystal clear, said Gabhubhai Chaudhary, senior leader of the Bhartiaya Kisan Sangh (BKS), adding that nothing less than reiteration of farmers’ overriding rights will be acceptable to us and if the government wants to help farmers, it should actually get an undertaking from PepsiCo India that it will not resort to intimidation tactics ever again.

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“This development today in no way means that the public campaign is over. While the defendant farmers at least have the profit-hungry MNC off their back in court, the battle is only half won on the field. The government of India had maintained an ominous silence on the legal situation in the country on farmers’ seed freedoms, taking cover of the matter being sub-judice. Now, it must make it amply clear that such litigation is not acceptable,” said BAM in a statement.

It said having harassed farmers through baseless cases, and having created a sense of panic among farmers of the country, PepsiCo should at least now acknowledge and accept that farmers rights as given in the law cannot be denied or challenged in this manner. It is also the duty of the government of India and the Protection of Plant Varieties & Farmers Rights Authority to instruct all registrants in the Plant Varieties Registry of India that their registration is conditional to, and subject to, farmers’ rights as contained in Section 39 (1) (iv) of the PPV&FR Act 2001, said the statement.

“PepsiCo and other corporations should acknowledge and accept that farmers’ right cannot be denied or challenged. Farmers’ seed freedom in India is the law of the land and this needs to be respected. The government of India should proactively take up measures to uphold farmers’ rights – We will continue our public campaign to secure this,” said BAM.

On April 5, 2019 PepsiCo filed legal suits against four farmers, with the Judge passing ad-interim ex-parte injunction orders on April 8. On April 17 onwards, various farmers’ organisations and activists jumped into the issue to support potato growers. On April 19, affected farmers submitted a memorandum to government authorities. Right from April 20, a twitter campaign by citizens with #BoycottPepsi hashtag started to back the farmers’ movement, which began trending at the national level in no time.

On April 24, around 200 activists and social workers wrote to government authorities concerned to intervene and protect farmers’ rights. On April 26, PepsiCo offered an out-of-court settlement. A day after, Gujarat deputy chief minister Nitin Patel said the government would become a party in the case in favour of farmers. On May 1, the Gujarat government started efforts for an out-of-court settlement. On May 2, PepsiCo spokesperson put out a statement saying that the company would withdraw the cases.

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