Millennium Post

Clashing clauses

A legal battle has convened between PepsiCo India and Gujarat farmers over the latter's alleged use of a variety of potato – FL 2027, also called FC5 – on which PepsiCo claimed exclusive rights by virtue of a Plant Variety Certificate (PVC) under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001. While PepsiCo claims infringement of intellectual property rights by Gujarat farmers over the growing of potato variety used in its Lay's chips, slapping a lawsuit of ₹1.05 crore each as damages, farmer groups have launched a campaign calling for government intervention. The farmer groups accompanied by civil society representatives have unanimously asserted that the law (PPV&FR) allows them to grow and sell any variety of crop or even seed as long as they don't sell branded seed of registered varieties. Hence, framing their claims as "untenable", they have demanded the withdrawal of all cases initiated against farmers by PepsiCo India. Both parties to the legal dispute forwarding their arguments based on the same law (PPV&FR) piques curiosity. While PepsiCo India has highlighted Section 64 of the PPV&FR Act, 2001 to claim infringement of its rights, farmer groups cite Section 39 of the same Act, which specifically says that a farmer is allowed "to save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share or sell his farm produce including seed of a variety protected under this Act" so long as he does not sell "branded seed". While the Ahmedabad commercial court gave PepsiCo the benefit of the doubt by restraining farmers from growing the specific variety, it also appointed a commissioner to prepare an inventory, take samples and send them to a government lab for analysis. Though PepsiCo has already conducted a lab assessment based on sample recovered by private detective company it hired to pose as customers in front of the farmers. So the court proceeding scheduled for today will predominantly have to decide on whether section 39 trumps section 64 of the same Act or not. PepsiCo already works with a large number of potato farmers to grow potato besides being the biggest buyer of chip-grade potato in the country. Apprehensions of a threat to its monopoly in the chip-grade potato market are therefore evident through the lawsuit initiated against the Gujarat farmers.

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