Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala has demanded a judicial enquiry into the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government's "deceitful" initiative to open the door for a U.S.-based fishing firm, EMCC International, to trawl the deep seas off Kerala.
The government had advanced the "mega scam" to give an undue financial advantage to the foreign firm to the detriment of the livelihood of traditional fishers in Indian territorial waters.
Mr. Chennithala alleged the government conspired with the company to sidestep the ban on foreign trawlers. It did so by nudging the Kerala Shipping and Inland Navigation Corporation (KSINC) under Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to ink an agreement with EMCC to build 400 deep-sea trawlers and seven motherships in domestic shipyards instead of importing the equipment.
The scheme was to help the foreign firm false flag fishing operations in the State's deep waters, he alleged.
Mr. Chennithala said the government's devious stratagy also envisaged allowing the U.S. firm to employ traditional fishers on their trawlers to give its deep-sea operations a legal cover.
The government had held the door open for the firm to relegate traditional fishers to the status of serfs.
The fleet owner would make off with the State's marine wealth. It would pay the fishers, the true heirs, to the ocean's wealth, a mere fraction of their projected earnings. Congress's expose had derailed the government's plot, for now, he said.
However, the danger had not passed. The administration had kept the agreements in abeyance. The LDF would revive them if it won the Assembly elections, Mr. Chennithala said.
The Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) signed another accord with EMCC to build modern fishing harbours. It also shared out 4.5 acres of government land at an industrial park in Alappuzha to aid the firm set up a marine produce processing unit, he said.
The intrigue to allow a foreign firm to harvest the State's deep seas was long in the making. Fisheries Minister J. Mercykutty, Industries Minister E. P. Jayarajan, Mr. Vijayan and EMCC representatives were part of the cabal. Corruption motivated them, Mr. Chennithala said.
Church slams move
Fr. Eugine H. Pereira of the Latin Archdiocese of Thiruvananthapuram said those responsible for the plot to deprive fishers of their livelihood would face their wrath in the Assembly elections. On the first impression, the government seemed to have attempted to betray the traditional fishing community's interest. The Church would seek more clarity in the matter before taking an informed stance, he added.
Cautionary report ignored: Central Minister
Union Minister of State V. Muralidharan said the Indian consulate in New York had warned the government that EMCC was a "paper company". It had no physical address and existed only in the virtual domain. However, the government had ignored the cautionary report and forged ahead with the deal. Its motive remained highly suspect. Industries Minister E. P. Jayarajan denied the Centre had forewarned the State.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) acting State secretary A. Vijayaraghavan said the government's agreements with EMCC was exploratory. The government annulled them after it found it ran against the grain of the State's fisheries policy.
In 2017, the State government had stood shoulder-to-shoulder with fishers to persuade the Centre to withdraw the fishing permits granted to foreign and domestic corporates to trawl the deep sea. The LDF was staunchly opposed to allowing foreign or domestic fishing fleet owners or corporates to exploit the State's marine wealth. Congress's false allegations would make no impression on traditional fishers, he said in Pattambi in Palakkad.