PepsiCo India on Friday unconditionally withdrew six lawsuits it had slapped on nine farmers from Aravalli and Sabarkantha districts. The farmers, however, will issue legal notices to PepsiCo India soon, seeking an apology for harassing them, and a symbolic compensation of Re 1 per lawsuit, said their advocate Anandvardhan Yagnik.
PepsiCo India had taken the farmers to court stating that they had been growing a variety of potato, FC-5 , “without their permission,” since it was registered under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act (PPV&FR Act). With this withdrawal, all litigations against all 11 farmers stand null and void.
Farmers protected by law
EVEN Fulchand and Suresh Kachchhawa, who were directors of Tirupati Balaji Chips Potato, an ostensible rival of PepsiCo’s Lays remain protected by Section 39 (1)(iv) of the PPV&FR Act, as they define themselves as farmers. This section protects farmer by entitling them to “save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share or sell his (sic) farm produce, including seed of a variety protected under this Act...” And the section over rides Section 64 that deals with infringement.
Among the cases, four farmers of Vadali taluka in Sabarkantha had been slapped with suits of Rs 1.05 crore each, while two lawsuits, each of Rs 20 lakh were filed against five farmers from Modasa taluka in Aravalli district.
The Rs 1.05 crore lawsuits were slapped on Sabarkantha farmers Bipin Patel, Vinod Patel, Chhabil Patel and Hari Patel on April 5. On Friday morning, PepsiCo India moved three applications before the commercial court of Ahmedabad with respect to the four lawsuits. The first application sought that the matter be taken on board Friday, instead of June 12, as the date that had been fixed for the next hearing by the court earlier. The second application submitted by PepsiCo India was withdrawal pursis, wherein it was stated, “…the plaintiff wishes to withdraw…relying on its discussions with the government to find a long-term and an amicable solution of issues around its seed protection. In view of the same, the court may be pleased to pass an order to allow the plaintiff to withdraw…” A third application by the company sought a refund of court fees.
Meanwhile, the two special civil suits against five semi-medium to medium farmers from Aravalli was scheduled for hearing on Friday at the district court. The lawsuits have been withdrawn against Prabhudas Patel, Bharat Patel, Jeetu Patel, Vinod Patel and Jigarkumar Patel as well. They were slapped with the lawsuits in March 2018, after which the hearing had been adjourned repeatedly.
A lawsuit against two farmers — Fulchand and Suresh Kachchhawa — was withdrawn last week by the company.
Farmers’ rights groups said this development in no way means that the public campaign is over. “The battle is only half won on field. The Government of India had maintained an ominous silence on the legal situation in the country on farmers’ seed freedom, taking cover of the matter being sub judice.”
On 26 April, the court ordered that the injunction barring the farmers from growing and selling the registered variety, be extended until the next hearing for the four Sabarkantha farmers on June 12. The same day, PepsiCo India told the court that it was willing to make an out-of-court settlement. On April 27, Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel extended government support to farmers, stating it will add itself as a party in the lawsuits. On May 3, PepsiCo India officials met state government officials following which this paper reported that the government suggested in a meeting that instead of having a bipartite agreement with farmers for contract farming of their registered seeds, they should sign a tripartite agreement involving the state government.