In a big win for the farmers of Gujarat who were sued by PepsiCo India two years ago for growing a potato variety used to make Lay's chips, a statutory body has revoked PepsiCo India‚Äôs registration certification on the potato variety. The plant varieties protection authority PPV&FR on Friday, December 3, revoked its varietal registration certificate which was granted to the food and beverages major on the 'FL-2027' potato variety in the country.
Reacting to the development, PepsiCo said it is in the process of reviewing the order passed by the Protection of Plant Varieties & Farmers' Rights (PPV&FR) Authority. PPV&FR is a statutory body set up under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act, 2001.
The authority ruling came over a petition filed by farm activist Kavitha Kuruganti, contending that the grant of the certificate of registration to PepsiCo India was based on incorrect information furnished by it. She has also contended that the intellectual property right (IPR) granted to PepsiCo India on a potato variety was not as per provisions laid down for registration and was against the public interest.
Moreover, the certificate of registration has been granted to a person who is not eligible for protection under the Act and the breeder (PepsiCo) did not provide the Registrar with such information, documents or materials as required, as per her petition. PPV&FR has consented to Kuruganti's submission and said the grant of the certificate of registration was based on "incorrect information" furnished by the applicant.
"Accordingly the certificate of registration dated February 1, 2016 granted by Registrar in favour of the Registered Breeder (PepsiCo) in respect of the potato variety with denomination FL 2027 is hereby revoked with immediate effect," the authority said in its 79-page ruling. In its judgement, PPV&FR has also come down heavily on the registrar, saying that "the registrar being protector of farmers' rights, violated the rules and this has caused hardship to farmer and other."
"This is totally unacceptable," it added.
The authority directed the registrar to develop a standardised sheet for evaluation of application for registration of plant varieties in accordance with the Act, rules and regulations. "Registrar may also constitute a committee and submit the detailed report on how to avoid such instances in future," the order said.
Commenting on the development, a PepsiCo spokesperson said: "We are aware of the order passed by the PPVFR Authority and are in the process of reviewing the same. Hence, at this moment it would be premature to offer any detailed comments."
Earlier, PepsiCo India had used the certificate on FL-2027 potato variety to sue farmers in Gujarat in 2018 and 2019.
In a statement, Kuruganti described the judgement as historic and said it upholds farmers' seed freedoms as contained in the PPV&FR Act. PepsiCo's action against farmers was based on a non-existent exclusive right that it claims to have obtained against Indian farmers, she said.
"The judgement of the Authority today also says this. On the other hand, the Indian legislation is unambiguous that farmers have over-arching rights over what seed they can plant as well as what they are entitled to do with their produce from any variety, including seed of registered variety," Kuruganti said. The only condition is that farmers should not sell seed of protected varieties in a branded fashion knowingly, Kuruganti added.
"Despite the law being this clear, Pepsico India harassed and intimidated farmers and sued them for exorbitant levels of alleged damages in 2018 and 2019," she said, adding that the company also "engaged detectives to entrap farmers and took secret video footage to build its cases." Kuruganti further said the judgement brings to light the procedural gaps in the grant of PVCs (plant variety certificates).
"Importantly, farmers' rights as contained in India's Act and any attempt to harass and intimidate farmers have been considered as a matter of public interest, through this judgement," she said.