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Civil society body warns of dilution of farmers' rights as Gujarat government attempts to settle Pepsi-farmer dispute

Joe C Mathew     May 2, 2019

Even as the Gujarat government is reportedly trying an 'out-of-court' settlement in the ongoing dispute between global snack foods and drinks major PepsiCo and nine potato farmers, Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), a farmers' rights advocacy body has stated that nothing less than a clear reiteration of farmers' rights over breeders rights should be acceptable.

"The Section 39(1) (iv) of the Protection of Plant Varieties & Farmers Rights (PPV&FR) Act 2001 is satisfactory and justifiable. This specific section of the sui generis statute that India brought in 2001, provides an entitlement to farmers of India to cultivate any variety that they would like to, including PVP-registered varieties. The section is applicable irrespective of the source of seed, type of seed, type of registrant, type of crop, and to who and how the harvest was sold.  Nothing matters except whether the farmer has sold branded seeds or not, as far as farmers' rights are concerned," ASHA stated in a press release.  The civil society group also emphasised that implementation of any Act requires the 'legislative intent' also to be upheld. "In this case, it is evident from the very title of the Act, that farmers'apriori seed rights are upheld over the breeder's economic right over the PVP-protected variety", they argued.

"Earlier the state government's Deputy Chief Minister gave a media statement on April 27, 2019, that the state government would implead in the case. The government's thinking seems to have changed now, however. It is also now talking about an out-of-court settlement apparently, even as PepsiCo proposed a 'settlement' in the last court hearing on April 26, 2019. In any of these attempts, there should be absolutely no compromise on farmers' rights and seed sovereignty. The state government should, therefore, make Section 39 (1) (iv) as the basis of any settlement, if at all, and anything less than that is unacceptable. It would have failed all the farmers in India and not just the sued farmers in question if it succumbs to corporate lobbying here. Indian farmers cannot pardon that," said Kapil Shah of Jatan, Gujarat.

Kavitha Kuruganti, ASHA, said that PepsiCo should withdraw the cases unconditionally, explicitly acknowledging that its rights under the law are indeed subject to farmers' rights.

Vinay Mahajan, a farmers' rights activist said, "The government must stand by the letter and spirit of the act, which clearly states farmers' rights over breeders' rights".

Also Read: BT Buzz: Pepsi vs farmers - Lay off the potatoes

Also Read: PepsiCo seeks Rs 1 crore from four farmers it sued for patented Lay's potatoes

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