The Gujarat government has decided to back the nine potato farmers locked in a legal battle with food and beverages giant PepsiCo after the latter dragged them to court for growing a potato variety which it claimed was its registered product.
A day after senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel stated that the state could not keep "its eyes shut" to the issue, Gujarat Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel on Sunday stated that the government had decided to join as a party in the lawsuits filed by the company.
Nitin Patel told a section of the media that the state government had received the representation of the farmers to intervene in the matter and it would submit to the court to be included as a party backing the farmers cause.
Ahmed Patel on Saturday described PepsiCo's action "brazenly wrong" and as many as 192 farmer organisations, including the RSS-affiliate Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, and rights activists made a strong representation that the company should withdraw the cases against the farmers.
PepsiCo has sued the nine farmers of Sabarkantha and Aravalli districts of North Gujarat for allegedly growing the FL2027 or FC5 variety of potatoes for which it has claimed Plant Variety Protection (PVP) rights.
The company has stated that it obtained PVP rights over the potato variety under the Protection of Plant Variety and Farmers Right (PPVFR) Act, 2001. It asserted that the farmers were violating its rights over the seed variety.
While four farmers have been sued with damage claim of Rs 1 crore each, five others were slapped with damage claim of Rs 20 lakh.
The farmers, on the other hand, made their case citing the provisions of the very legislation which, they claimed allows "to save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share or sell his farm produce including seed of a variety protected under this Act".
Meanwhile, PepsiCo has already offered an out-of-court settlement with four of the farmers during a hearing of the case at an Ahmedabad commercial court on Friday on the condition that they would not use the patented variety of potato seeds in the future.
The company said it was "compelled to take the legal recourse" to safeguard the interests of thousands of farmers associated with its "collaborative potato farming programme".
As the court fixed the next hearing for June 12, senior counsel Anand Yagnik, appearing for the farmers, stated that they would deliberate over the company's offer for settlement and file a reply.
North Gujarat has come to represent the potato bowl of the country producing more than 33 lakh tonnes from 1.21 lakh hectares.