Corporate Control and Agricultural Rights

Agriculture is the backbone of the Indian economy. A whopping seventy percent of the country’s population derives its livelihood from farming and almost every citizen of the country has a degree of connectivity with the sector. Recently, the wrath of the farmers against the newly passed farm laws in September 2020 was witnessed by all. There had been protests countrywide with Delhi being the centre and several incidents of clashes between the farmers and the police surfaced. The tractor rally on this Republic Day was a way of demonstration of the outrage which brought huge numbers of farmers to the Capital. The pandemic situation currently has cloaked this issue but nevertheless, it persists.

The underlying reason amongst farmers for such a huge uproar was the fear of corporate exploitation. The farmers allegedly believe that the new laws will lead to Corporate Giants controlling the entire farming process throughout the Country. Though this outlook was denied by the present Government, it cannot be termed as completely baseless. There is a huge power gap between the farmers and the corporates and incidents of corporates taking advantage of their position have cropped up all over the place.

Tractor plowing fields

In a 2019 Gujrat High Court case, multinational giant PepsiCo, owner the brand Lays Chips sued eleven farmers for infringement of Intellectual Property Rights. The Company alleged they were growing a specific variety of potatoes known as FL 2027 patented by PepsiCo. and demanded compensation of Rupees 1.05 Cr from each farmer. According to experts the Patent Act itself does not allow patenting of plants, seeds or biological processes. Shelter from this suit was taken under Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Right Act, 2001 (PPV&FR). This act was designed to strike a balance between the rights of the breeders and that of the farmers. PepsiCo. invoked Section 64 of the Act which describes infringement and filed a suit invoking Section 65 of the Act which describes when a suit can be filed. This case being first of its kind under the said Act also lacked any relevant case precedents.

In the same act Section 39(iv) exclusively says that “a farmer shall be deemed to be entitled to save, use, sow resow, exchange, share or sell his farm produce including seed of a variety protected under this Act in the same manner as he was entitled before the coming into force of this Act”. This led to a controversy and there was a huge pressure from farmers’ Unions, Social workers and other such organisations. Legal experts also had divided views in this regard. To everybody’s surprise, as per the statement by PepsiCo., after discussions with the Government, it withdrew its case from the Court. In the absence of any precedents and withdrawal of the only case in this regard under the said Act, ambiguity hovers over the law. The government also kept an ominous silence over this issue.

Issues of corporate control over agricultural land have also been cropping up in highly industrialized and privatized nations like the USA, and is also global problem today. It is reasonable and natural for the farmers to fear as a lot of them are not even financially capable to contest court cases and they remain highly vulnerable to corporate exploitation. This issue should not remain unaddressed for the balanced development of the complete agriculture sector and each one involved in it.

Author: Imran Rizvi, Legal Intern at PA Legal.

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