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The Big Story: Fishing in Deep Sea
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said on February 20 (Saturday) that the Rs 2,950-crore deep-sea fishing deal that Kerala had signed with a US-based multinational company was without his government’s knowledge.
He said the Left Democratic Front (LDF), a coalition of parties headed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), is against allowing corporates in deep-sea fishing because of two reasons. Firstly, it is against the state government’s fisheries policy. Secondly, it would negatively affect the interests of the traditional fishers in the state.
A day later, the state government cancelled the Memorandum of Understanding signed between Kerala Shipping and Inland Navigation Corporation (KSINC) and the US-based EMCC International.
The admission of mistake could be construed as a noble gesture especially when it comes from Kerala’s Chief Minister and seasoned politician Pinarayi.
However, it does not absolve his government’s responsibility to explain, in the first place, the reasons for signing the deal that goes against the interests of the fishers.
But he remains silent on that crucial aspect though documents revealed that his government knew about the nitty-gritties of the deal.
Apparently, the chief minister’s admission of mistake was an attempt to pacify the aggrieved fisherfolks and regain their confidence ahead of the Assembly election slated for April 6.
Such is the importance of fisherfolk in the state’s electoral politics.
Kerala has a 576.1km-long coastline. It has more than 10 lakh active traditional fishers, who live near the coast with their families. They can decide the outcome in around 50 Assembly constituencies in nine coastal districts of Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Alappuzha, Ernakulam, Thrissur, Malappuram, Kozhikode, Kannur and Kasaragod. LDF had won a major share of the seats in the coastal belt in the 2016 Assembly election, while the Congress-led opposition coalition - United Democratic Front (UDF) - could win only nine seats.
The government found itself in a tough situation with the fishers’ unions, except those supporting the LDF government, organising a total coastal hartal on Saturday. Religious organisations too supported the hartal.
The powerful Latin Catholic Church stated that deep-sea fishing by big players would affect the livelihood of fishers. Kerala Catholics Bishops’ Conference (KCBC) demanded that the government should withdraw all the steps initiated for the project.
The deal has given the opposition another issue to corner the government after the protests by the government job aspirants during the campaign for Assembly election.
Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala has already called for the resignation of Fisheries Minister J Mercykutty Amma. UDF leaders TN Prathapan and Shibu Baby John will travel around the coastal constituencies to drive fishers’ anger against the government.
The plan to ink the deep-sea fishing deal began with the Kerala Industrial Development Corporation (KIDC), an investment promotion arm under the state industries department, signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with EMCC International India Private Limited on February 28, 2020. The company is the Indian subsidiary of the New York-based EMCC Global Consortium. The plan envisaged upgradation and promotion of deep-sea fishing in Kerala with a total outlay of Rs 5,000crore. The proposal was to build 400 deep-sea fishing trawlers, five mother vessels with modern technology, upgradation of 14 fishing harbours, setting up of 50 seafood processing plants, hospitals and air ambulance facilities for fishers and aquaculture farms apart from training and deploying 1.60 lakh fishers in deep-sea fishing.
The deal got rolling a year later. On February 2, 2021, the Kerala Shipping and Inland Navigation (KSINC) signed an agreement with EMCC for manufacturing 400 deep-sea trawlers at a cost of Rs 2,950 crore. KSINC is a government organisation that functions under Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
So it is naive to believe Pinarayi’s contention that the government was unaware of the deal signed with the foreign firm.
Besides, the company officials were in touch with state ministers and top bureaucrats.
In April 2018, the EMCC officials had met Fisheries Minister Mercykutty Amma to discuss the project. In July 2019, Fisheries Secretary K R Jyotilal discussed the project with the company officials. The company officials had met Pinarayi Vijayan at his official residence in 2019. The project was showcased in the Global Investors’ Meet, organised by the Kerala government, in 2020. The MoU was signed on February 28, 2020. A year later, KSIDC allotted four acres of land to EMCC for fish processing and signed a deal for Rs 2,950 crore. The company even approached Industries Minister E P Jayarajan for cabinet consent for the project on February 11, 2021.
The deal invited criticism from fishery experts too.
Former Additional Secretary of Fisheries, Dr Sanjeeva Ghosh termed the proposals impractical. “The deal was signed without proper homework. It appears to have mysterious intentions,” he wrote in Malayala Manorama.
Kerala Election on April 6
Political parties have hastened seat-sharing talks after the Central Election Commission announced that Kerala would go to the polls on April 6. The electorate has to wait for close to one month to know who will rule the state for the next five years because counting is slated for May 2.
The bye-election to the Malappuram Lok Sabha constituency will also be held on April 6. The seat fell vacant after sitting MP and Indian Union Muslim League leader P K Kunhalikkutty quit his membership to come back to Kerala politics.
Elections in the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu and the Union Territory of Puducherry will be held on April 6.
Assam will go to poll in three phases on March 27, April 1 and April 6, while election in West Bengal will be conducted in eight phases on March 27, April 1, 6, 10, 17, 22, 26, 29.
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Curated Poll Stories