A day after PepsiCo announced that it would withdraw cases filed against the potato farmers in Gujarat, activists and farmer leaders Friday said the company must do it unconditionally and also pay a compensation to the cultivators for causing “harassment”.
Agitated by PepsiCo’s earlier decision to sue potato growing farmers for allegedly growing a variety of potato registered by it, around 25 major farmers’ bodies of Gujarat and the country, including Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), along with activists and NGOs have decided to form a central body – Seed Sovereignty Forum – to protect farmers’ rights on seeds.
A meeting to chalk out an action plan under this umbrella body was held on Friday at the Gujarat Vidyapith here, said farm rights activist, Kapil Shah of NGO ‘Jatan’.
“We are apprehensive because PepsiCo’s statement yesterday does not offer anything new. The company had earlier told the court that it will withdraw cases on two conditions – either farmers give up using company’s seeds or farmers become part of contract farming with the company,” Shah told reporters here.
“We demand that the withdrawal of cases must be unconditional. We also want the company to pay compensation to these farmers for causing harassment. The law is crystal clear and it says that farmers’ or cultivators’ rights will always supersede the rights of seed breeders. Farmers’ right over seed is non-negotiable,” he said.
Nine farmers from Sabarkantha and Aravalli districts were 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 ranging from Rs 20 lakh to Rs 1 crore from each of them.
They have been sued by the company under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001.
Shah said the issue touches farmers of the entire country and not just of Gujarat.
“After this issue cropped up, around 25 national and regional organisations working for farmers decided to come under one roof to form ‘Seed Sovereignty Forum’. We will hold a meeting today to devise an action plan to fight against such cases in the future and formulate a long-term strategy to ensure that farmers’ rights are not snatched away,” said Shah.
Shah was accompanied by four farmers of Sabarkantha district, who were sued by the MNC. Office-bearers of the BKS and several other farm rights activists were also present.
Registrar of Gujarat Vidyapith, Rajendra Khimani, called for spreading of awareness among farmers about various laws that protect them.
“All the Acts are in English, not in the language understood by the majority of farmers. As a result, they are not aware of their rights. There is a need to make such laws available in local languages. We also need to keep a check on any attempt aimed at diluting such pro-farmer laws,” Khimani, who is the president of Gujarat Association of Agricultural Sciences, said.
Chhabil Patel, one of the farmers sued by PepsiCo, said they used rejected potatoes as seeds, which is a natural practice in villages.
“We have been wrongly framed. After grading, PepsiCo takes only large-size potatoes (to make chips), while small potatoes were discarded. Such rejected stock is available everywhere. We sowed those potatoes only. We have now realised that even the law allows us to do so,” Patel, who hails from Sabarkantha, said.
In a statement issued on Thursday, PepsiCo India had said it has agreed to withdraw cases against farmers after holding talks with the government.
“After discussions with the government, the company has agreed to withdraw cases against farmers. We are relying on the said discussions to find a long-term and an amicable resolution of all issues around seed protection,” the statement said.