The legal battle between beverage behemoth PepsiCo India Holdings Pvt Ltd (PIH) and four farmers in Gujarat could soon be over. The Indian subsidiary of US food and beverages giant, PepsiCo India Holdings has now offered out of court settlement to four farmers of Sabarkantha district against whom it has slapped lawsuits. Pepsi co. earlier demanded Rs 1.05 crore from the four farmers namely Hari Patel, Bipin Patel, Chhabil Patel and Vinod Patel as "damages" for allegedly growing and selling a potato variety the FL 2027, also known as FC-5. Pepsi co. has registered this variety of potato under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001. Notably, this variety is used in making PepsiCo's chips iconic product Lay's.
During a hearing at the Ahmedabad court, the legal counsel representing PepsiCo indicated a possibility of out-of-court settlement. He told Judge MC Tyagi that the company would withdraw the case if farmers agreed to sign an agreement to buy the registered variety of FC-5 potato seeds and selling the produce to Pepsi only. The farmers have also been given the option of giving an undertaking that they would never buy and sow the said registered variety of FC-5 potato seeds in future. Pepsi is engaging with more than 1200 farmer in Gujarat for sowing and producing the FC-5 variety of potato.
The company spokesperson said "PepsiCo India has proposed to amicably settle with people who were unlawfully using seeds of its registered variety. PepsiCo has also proposed that they may become part of its collaborative potato farming program. This program gives them access to higher yields, enhanced quality, training in best-in-class practices and better prices. In case, they do not wish to join this program, they can simply sign an agreement and grow other available varieties of potatoes. It is significant to note that the company's collaborative potato farming program is best in class and is built on strong backward and forward linkages that improve livelihoods by using protected seeds."
The decision for an out of court settlement now lies with the farmers. Meanwhile, the farmer's legal counsel sought time till 12th June for filing their submission in the case. During this time, the court's order of a stay on the farmers from growing and selling the potatoes stands till next hearing on 12th June. The case triggered an uproar among farmers' leaders, activists and civil society representatives as they approached central and state government seeking intervention in support of farmers. They claimed that the farmers have not infringed any IPR rights of PepsiCo and the Section 39(1) of PPV&FR Act, 2001 entitled farmers in India to buy and sow seeds of any variety registered.