Thiruvananthapuram: The Kerala government has likely waded into another row as its deep-sea trawling deal with American company EMCC International is likely to harm the interests of the fishing community in the state.
Significantly, the hush-hush manner in which the project is being executed raises doubts even as it is evident more than one ministry is involved in driving it. The related Memorandum of Understanding was likely concluded by the government keeping the Council of Ministers in the dark and without floating a global tender.
The deal envisages the building of new harbours and development of ports as well as the construction of 400 deep-sea fishing trawlers and 5 ships.
Who all are involved
While the preliminary discussions on the project to open up deep sea fishing off the Kerala coast to the American firm were held during Fisheries Minister J Mercykutty Amma's visit to the US in 2018, further actions were taken by the industries department which is under the control of minister E P Jayarajan.
The US-based EMCC and the Kerala Shipping and Inland Navigation Corporation (KSINC) signed an agreement in this regard on February 2. The latter state undertaking comes under the chief minister's jurisdiction.
The industries department likely sanctioned 4 acres for the Americam firm to set up a mega food park at Pallipuram.
In a letter to Jayarajan, EMCC states that discussions were held with the principal secretary (fisheries) after handing over the project report. However, the Fisheries Minister is yet to react on this issue.
It is the fisheries department that grants licence amd registration for open sea trawlers. (Mechanised boats with 20 metre length can go up to 12 nautical miles, while those above 20 mm can go beyond that for fishing activities.)
As EMCC or its subsidiaries do not have any past experience in the fisheries sector, how it landed the deal is a mystery.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala had on Friday alleged massive corruption in the over Rs 5,000 crore deal the Kerala government signed.
N Prashanth, MD, KSINC, defended the deal. "The move to trigger a controversy regarding this project is unpardonable. The companies which are going to build ships and other boats as per the agreement will have to strictly comply with the rules and regulations of the state and the central government."
Kochi company for consultancy
The consultancy agreement contract for the project was signed early this month with Kochi-based company Virgo Aqua Engineering. The company had earlier assisted in creating a detailed report regarding the modernisation of fish markets in the state.
Central nod difficult
Experts in the fisheries sector say the chances of central government approval for the state government's pact with the EMCC is remote. Central government permission is mandatory for fishing beyond 12 nautical miles.
The Meena Kumari Commission set up by the central government had recommended that in view of the depleting fish wealth in the Arabian Sea, fishing activities should not increased in the area.
How fishers will be hit
Soon after the signing of MoU came to light the fish workers organisations' had expressed their apprehension regarding the project.
There is serious apprehension that the Rs 5,324.49 crore project will adversely affect traditional fishing in the state. Well-equipped foreign trawlers can exhaust marine resources fast, thus harming Kerala fishers who use mechanised and traditional boats along the Kerala coast. The project document says that the fish caught by the company, EMCC, would be processed and sold in domestic and international markets. Retail markets would be set up within and outside the country for this purpose.
The Build Own Operate and Transfer (BOT) project will run for 20 to 25 years.