Chennithala alleges corruption in deep sea trawling deal; Mercykutty terms the charge 'absurd'

Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala, Kerala fisheries minister J Mercykutty Amma
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala, Kerala fisheries minister J Mercykutty Amma

Thiruvananthapuram: Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala on Friday alleged massive corruption in a Rs-5000 crore deal the Kerala government is said to have signed to open up deep sea fishing in the Kerala waters to an American multinational.

He accused Fisheries Minister J Mercykutty Amma and Industries Minister E P Jayarajan of being the chief conspirators of the deep sea deal that would hand over Kerala's rich marine resources to a foreign multinational.

During the Kollam stretch of his 'Aishwarya Kerala Yatra', Chennithala said the deal, inked by the state-owned Kerala Shipping and Inland Navigation Corporation (KSINC) with US-based EMCC International, began with Mercykutty Amma holding talks with representatives of the foreign company in New York in 2018.

"The Kerala government has decided to enter into an agreement with an American company for deep sea fishing. It's in gross violation of the rights of the fishermen in Kerala. Without discussing in the Cabinet or the Left front, how can the government move forward with such a step," he asked, at a press meet here.

"To take this project forward, the LDF had even tweaked the existing fisheries policy and announced a new one. It is mysterious why the policy was tampered with after entering into talks with the multinational company," Chennithala said.

The opposition leader said that the memorandum of understanding was signed with the company's Indian subsidiary, EMCC International (India) Private Limited, and was inked at the Global Investors' Meet, Ascent 2020. He said the secondary agreements were signed last week.

He said the Indian subsidiary was only two years old, and its investment a mere Rs 10 lakh.

"Like other corrupt deals of the Pinarayi Vijayan government, expressions of interest or global tenders were not invited for this deal too," he said. He said this was a bigger corruption scandal than even the Sprinklr and E-Mobility Hub deals.

Chennithala said he would reveal more details soon.

Mercykutty denies allegations

Mercykutty, on her part, termed as "absurd" Chennithala's charge. "Such a company has not been granted registration or any licences. No such agreement is possible without the knowledge of the Fisheries Department," she said.

She said the Fisheries Department, which is the licencing authority, has not received any application from a multinational company seeking permission for deep sea trawling.

When she was told about the agreement that Chennithala had made public, the minister said she had no idea of any agreement.

"I am speaking about deep sea trawling and I repeat there is no such agreement. Even if any MoU has been signed at Ascent Kerala, it is the Fisheries Department that has to give sanction for deep sea trawling. As it stands, the Department has not received any such application," she said.

The minister said only the Centre can permit deep sea fishing by a foreign company and the state government will not take any steps affecting the fishermen community.

The KSINC has recently inked a pact with EMCC International for a deep sea fishing project worth Rs 2,950 crore.

As per the project, Kerala would purchase 400 state-of-the-art mechanised trawlers, each one costing Rs two crore. Five mother vessels, too, would be purchased at the cost of Rs 74 crore per vessel. Since these trawlers would be too big for harbours in Kerala, new harbours would be constructed and the capacity of existing ones would be augmented.

KSINC will provide technical help and give full responsibility to EMCC to build the trawlers. The project will allow the company to fish the deep sea using state-of-the-art deep sea trawlers and modern nets that could scour the ocean floor.

"This would have a devastating effect on the marine ecology and also the livelihoods of traditional fishermen," Chennithala said.

Chennithala said the company was luring the coastal community by assurances of a spurt in earnings and exports.

"Similar were the promises made by the Centre to push through the farm bills," the Congress leader said.

He said all political parties had till now objected to multinational companies trawling Kerala waters using massive trawling boats. Fish workers, too, have mounted stiff resistance.

"The CPM, which had all along opposed foreign deep sea fishing, has now taken a U-turn," the opposition leader said.

Leave along opposition parties, the opposition leader said the CPM had not consulted even LDF allies or fisher groups before signing the deal.

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