The Gujarat government is working for an out-of-court settlement of cases filed by PepsiCo against nine state farmers for growing a variety of potato "registered" by the food and beverages giant, Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel said Wednesday.
Nine farmers from Sabarkantha and Aravalli districts have been sued by PepsiCo in two separate courts for allegedly growing a variety of potatoes for which the company has claimed plant variety protection (PVP) rights and sought damages of as much as Rs 1 crore from each of them.
The American multinational company has claimed the potato variety in question has been "registered" by it.
"The government is trying to ensure that the issue is resolved outside the court properly and as per the law, in a manner that it is helpful to farmers.
"The agriculture secretary and chief secretary have been informed regarding the same," Mr Patel told reporters in Ahmedabad.
PepsiCo had last week offered to settle lawsuits against the farmers, but only if they gave an undertaking to purchase this specific variety of seeds from the company and sell the potato to it.
Meanwhile, farmer organisations have threatened an agitation over the issue and also a boycott of PepsiCo products.
"Farmer organisations and legal experts are meeting on May 3 to discuss the matter and ensure that a landmark decision is made in this regard for the entire world," said Kapil Shah of the Jatan Trust.
Farmer rights activists have claimed the Protection of Plant Variety and Farmers Right (PPVFR) Act, 2001, which has been invoked by PepsiCo in its lawsuits against the farmers, has a section that protects agriculturists in such cases.
Farmers can "save, use, sow, re-sow, exchange, share or sell his farm produce including seed of a variety protected under the PPV&FR Act, 2001 in the same manner as he was entitled before the coming into force of this Act provided farmer shall not be entitled to sell branded seed of a variety protected under the PPV&FR Act, 2001," the Act says.
Over 190 activists had recently come out in support of the farmers facing lawsuits and requested the Union government to ask PepsiCo India to withdraw its "false" cases against them.
In a letter to the Union Ministry of Agriculture, 194 signatories had sought financial aid and protection of rights of the farmers sued for growing and selling a potato variety called FC-5 potato, for which PepsiCo India Holdings claimed to have obtained "exclusive rights in the country in 2016".
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