Food and beverages giant PepsiCo on Friday offered to settle lawsuits against four farmers whom it had dragged to court for "illegally" growing a variety of potatoes "registered" by the company. Nine farmers from Sabarkantha and Aravalli districts have been sued by the firm for allegedly growing a variety of potatoes for which it has claimed Plant Variety Protection (PVP) rights.
During a hearing in the commercial court here on Friday, the firm offered to settle the dispute if the farmers gave an undertaking to purchase this specific variety of seeds from the company and thereafter sell the potato produce to it.
Senior counsel Anand Yagnik, who appeared for the four farmers of Sabarkantha district, told the court he would discuss the settlement proposal with the farmers and inform the court about the outcome in the next hearing.
Commercial Court Judge M C Tyagi on Friday extended its previous order restricting the farmers from using the patented seeds till the next hearing, which was kept for June 12.
The multinational giant has sought damages of Rs. 1 crore from each of the four farmers of Sabarkantha in its suit at the commercial court, and Rs. 20 lakh from each of the farmers sued at a district court in Modasa town of Aravalli district.
In a statement, PepsiCo said it was "compelled" to take the legal path to safeguard the interests of farmers associated with the firm.
Earlier, over 190 activists had requested the Union government to ask food and beverages giant PepsiCo India to withdraw its "false" cases against Gujarat farmers for allegedly illegally growing a variety of potatoes "registered" by the company.
The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Authority Act, 2011 exempts farmers from PVP rights, said Kapil Shah, who heads Jatan, an organisation dedicated to organic farming.
"It is for the state government to ensure that farmers are not harassed. The company should immediately withdraw the case which is untenable," said Sagar Rabari of the Gujarat Khedut Samaj.
In a letter to the Ministry of Agriculture, 194 signatories have sought financial aid and protection of rights of farmers who have been 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".
Reached for its reaction, a company spokesperson said that "given the issue is sub-judice, it would not be proper to offer detailed comments".