“Government of India should proactively take up measures to uphold farmers’ rights – We will continue our public campaign to secure this” say farmers rights groups
PepsiCo India Holdings Ltd, after having sought and obtained an early Hearing in its cases against 4 Gujarat potato farmers in the Commercial Court of Ahmedabad and 5 farmers in district court of Modasa today, withdrew its legal suits today. Under intense public and political pressure apart from reported pressure from the MNC’s headquarters, the company put in today applications for withdrawal of 4 suits it had filed against farmers of Sabarkantha district in early April 2019. Farmers’ rights groups said that while PepsiCo India was taught a lesson in law by alert citizens, it is now the responsibility of Government of India to pro-actively take up measures to uphold farmers’ rights. “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”, the activists said.
Farmers’ advocate Anand Yagnik stated that rarely it happens that multinationals withdraws suits that too having litigated against marginalized 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 This is the first instance where PepsiCo has withdrawn suits not only against the farmers of Sabarkantha but also against Aravalli and Banaskantha and with this withdrawal the ill-conceived initiative of PepsiCo to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. This is a great victory of farmers also because of support they got from activists, lawyers and common men of India. 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 law of India allows farmers to use even registered seeds and take produce. The only exception is the farmers are not supposed to sell the registered seeds resorting to any type of branding or labelling. Mr. Yagnik expresses his gratitude to the State of Gujarat and the great role played by Indian media.
“Firstly, we are extremely thankful for the role played national and International media, who understood the gravity of the issue and created tremendous pressure on the company. When PepsiCo India made an application in February 2012 to the Protection of Plant Varieties & Farmers Rights Authority for the registration of a particular potato variety, it had given a Declaration that it shall abide by all the provisions and guidelines of the PPV&FR Act 2001. This then means Section 39 (1) (iv) and the rights of farmers of India therein. It is highly objectionable that having agreed to compliances of registration, now company is trying to find ‘long term amicable solution to protect its variety’ with the help of Govt”, said Kapilbhai Shah, Coordinator, Beej Adhikar Manch, a newly formed platform to protect farmers’ seed sovereignty.
“Any reference to some discussions that PepsiCo India was having with government was not acceptable to us, when such discussions did not involve the affected farmers and farmers’ organisations and when there was no need for such discussions in the first instance. Gujarat government can neither persuade nor dictate to farmers of this state that they need to take permission from some company that is claiming exclusive rights which then means that the government itself would be misleading the farmers on the law of the land”, said Dr Rajendra Khimani, President of Gujarat Association of Agricultural Sciences on behalf of Beej Adhikar Manch.
The law is crystal clear. Nothing less than a reiteration of farmers overriding rights will be acceptable to us and if government wants to help farmers, it should actually get an undertaking from PepsiCo India that it will not resort to these intimidation tactics ever again” said Gabhubhai Chowdhari Bharatiya Kisan Sangh.
“Having harassed us through baseless cases, and having created a sense of panic amongst 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 should apologise and compensate us for the harassment we were subjected to” told a team of victim farmers in a press conference.
“The entire episode so far, with PepsiCo’s actions being against the law as well as basic ethics, created a lot of confusion and panic amongst farmers not just here, but all over the country. While PepsiCo India had to backtrack quickly under public pressure, this is still not confidence-inspiring, nor upholding of farmers’ rights in a pro-active fashion by the government. What is clear is that the ramifications of this episode are not limited to the sued potato farmers of Gujarat, but all farmers of India. Therefore, it falls upon the Government of Gujarat to issue a public statement that it will not allow farmers’ seed freedoms to be tampered with by anyone. It is also the duty of 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 a statement put out by the farmers groups.
Speakers in a press conference requested civil society to be ever-vigilant to ensure that corporations do not misinterpret and distort laws to their convenience. They also demanded greater corporate accountability to contain corporate arrogance and mistreatment of basic rights of citizens, and asked for a statute to be brought in for ensuring this. “It is clear from this episode that the judiciary itself need to be educated on the legislative history and intended objectives of this very unique law PPV&FR Act 2001. The cases would not have progressed and injunction obtained by the company against the farmers, if the applications got dismissed at the very threshold of admission”, they said. The state judicial academies must immediately commence IPR literacy. It is also clear that farmers in the country also need to be educated about the law. “We will press for all these measures, so that farmers’ rights are not trampled upon in India”, said Beej Adhikar Manch.