Cornered, Kerala govt scraps MoU for deep-sea fishing

Fish trawler
Representational image: Hannah van Herk/Shutterstock

Thiruvananthapuram: The Kerala government has scrapped the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that the state-owned Kerala State Inland Navigation Corporation (KSINC) had concluded with the US-based firm EMCC International to carry out deep-sea fishing off the coast of the state, drawing a strong reaction from the latter.

This drastic move comes in the wake of severe censure by the Opposition which claimed that the interests of the fishing community has been jeopardised.

The decision to call of the deal reportedly followed a direction from Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who had earlier dismissed the opposition charge saying no foreign company will be allowed to engage in deep-sea trawling in the state waters.

The step was taken reportedly to avoid further controversies,with the opposition levelling fresh charges and bringing out what they term as 'evidence' almost every day.

Meanwhile,EMCC International India Private Limited president Shiju Varghese came out against the cancellation of the agreement.

"On what basis is the government cancelling the MoU? We are not any monopoly who are coming to plunder the fish stock of the state.

Why did the Fisheries Minister not tell us prior if the project is against the state's Fisheries' Policy?" he told a television channel.

The opposition Congress and the Left Democratic Front government had been sparring on the issue since Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala last week alleged corruption behind the agreement inked by KSINC with EMCC International.

KSINC Managing Director N Prasanth and EMCC International India Private Limited president Shiju Varghese recently inked a Rs 2,950 crore pact to build 400 deep sea fishing trawlers and new harbours and for the port development activities.

However, opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala had alleged that this particular MoU was part of a Rs 5,000 crore mammoth project promoting deep sea fishing in the state waters.

It was against the proclaimed Fisheries' Policy of the state and would adversely affect the interests of lakhs of fishermen, he alleged.

The charges were rejected as 'baseless' by the LDF government and Pinarayi Vijayan had asserted that his government would not deviate from its fisheries policy and would continue to encourage the traditional fishermen to become the "owners of deep-sea fishing vessels."

Chennithala had earlier released a photo of Fisheries minister J Mercykutty Amma purportedly holding discussions with the representatives of the EMCC International. Chennithala alleged that the photo, in which the minister and the officials of EMCC International and the fisheries department could be seen, was proof for the discussion held here between the government and the US-based company.

At a press meet, he claimed there was a meeting between the minister and the company representatives in New York also, photos of which were expected to be available soon.

He also released what he termed was 'documentary evidence' – a purported concept note submitted by the company to the fisheries department and the letter sent by the fisheries principal secretary to the EMCC president on the controversial project.

Mercykutty's defence

However, Minister Mercykutty dismissed the allegations and maintained there was no such agreement.

The minister accused Chennithala of trying to 'mislead' the fishing community by raising baseless allegations ahead of national leader Rahul Gandhi's expected tour of coastal Kollam district next week.

Though the minister admitted that the EMCC officials had met her, she stood by her earlier stand that there was no such meeting in New York, as alleged by the opposition.

"The state's fisheries' policy was formulated in 2019 after holding discussions with all trade unions and other stake holders. As per the government policy, no foreign company or Indian corporate will be allowed for deep sea trawling," she clarified

The policy even states that the number of fishing vessels would be regulated, she said, adding that no action would be taken violating this.

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