Why is the Kerala government caught in a net over a deep sea fishing d...
Mar 05, 2021
Why is the Kerala government caught in a net over a deep sea fishing deal?
Q. What is the news?
- The CPI (M)-led Kerala government is under fire for allegedly inking a deal with an American firm for deep sea fishing and allied processing, what the Congress-led Opposition calls a bid to sell off the state’s marine wealth, endangering the livelihood of lakhs of fishermen in the state.
Q. What is the controversial deal all about?
- During the global investors meet, ASCEND-2020, in January 2020, Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation, under Industries Department, inked an MoU with Indian arm of US firm EMCC International India Private Limited for “Fisheries research and development for the up-gradation and promotion of deep sea fishing in Kerala”. The firm had stated that the total outlay of the project was Rs 5,000 crore.
- One of the stated objectives of the deal was deep sea fishing with state-of-the-art technology. The components of the project were construction of 400 deep sea fishing trawlers as per the design proposed by EMCC, five mother vessels with modern technology, up-gradation of 14 fishing harbours in Kerala as per EU standards, 50 sea food processing plants, hospitals and air ambulances for fishermen and aquaculture farms.
The proposal said the EMCC would train and deploy 1.60 lakh fishermen in deep sea fishing. Their skills would be upgraded, and the local fishing community would benefit in terms of direct and indirect employment opportunities, apart from the supplementary economic benefits triggered by the fishing and processing activities.
Q. How is the proposed project is against fisheries policy?
- The Union Government had in 2017 withdrawn permission given for foreign trawlers, (given in 2014) for deep sea fishing in the exclusive economic zone of the country. The EEZ of the country extends up to 370 km from the coastline. In fact, foreign trawlers had been operational since 1997 with the then Union Government issuing letters of permission for foreign trawlers.
- In Kerala, the fisheries policy of the CPI (M) government is against allowing foreign or Indian corporate groups in deep sea fishing along the Kerala coast. The professed policy of the state is to equip the traditional fishermen for deep sea fishing by making them owners of deep sea fishing vessels. Besides, there would be restrictions on the number of vessels. Only traditional fishermen would be given permission to replace their old boast. The state claimed to have exerted pressure on the Union Government to withdraw the sanction given to foreign vessels.
Q. Why did Kerala government go ahead with project?
- As a sequel to the MoU EMCC had inked with KSIDC in 2020, Kerala Shipping and Inland Navigation (KSINC), a public sector entity under Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, on February 2, 2021, signed a new agreement with the same US-based firm for manufacturing 400 deep sea trawlers and related activities at a cost of Rs 2,950 crore. The government had officially announced this agreement, inked on February 2, in which KSINC was expected to give infrastructure facilities to EMCC for manufacturing deep sea vessels. It said these deep sea vessels would be given to traditional fishermen and the company would modernise fishing harbours and engage in processing industry along the state’s coast.
Are the Chief Minister, his cabinet colleagues aware of the proposed project?
- Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, Industries Minister E P Jayarajan and Fisheries Minister J Mercykutty Amma have been vehemently denying that no such project was brought before the government. EMCC had claimed that its officials had met the Chief Minister in his official residence in August 2019. The government had denied the original MoU of 2020 and the subsequent one in which KSINC is involved.
- CM claimed he was not aware of the Rs 2,950-crore deal by KSINC, an entity which is under him and which has former chief secretary Tom Jose as its chairman.
- However, there is a chain of incidents that show the entire issue has been under the eye of the government at various levels.
- The documents released by Opposition leader show that the EMCC executives had met CPI (M) leader and Fisheries Minister in New York in April 2018, and discussed the project. In July 2019, the EMCC had a meeting with fisheries secretary and discussed the concept paper in detail. EMCC had also then sought a letter of intent from Kerala government for the project worth Rs 5,000 crore. KSIDC signed the MoU with EMCC for the project on after this. Early this February, KSIDC had given a letter to the firm allotting four acres of land in Alappuzha for fish processing.
Q. How has the issue snowballed into a pre-poll controversy?
- The Opposition allegation that CPI (M) is trying to sell off the marine wealth to the US firm has suddenly stoked fire along the coast. Various fishermen community organisations, except the one affiliated to CPI (M), have declared a coastal hartal on February 27. The Congress and the BJP are playing the issue to the hilt among the fishermen community. The issue has embarrassed the CPI (M) as it looks contradictory to its own professed stand against the corporate firms in the fisheries sector.
Q. What is EMCC?
- EMCC global consortium is based in New York with an Indian arm called EMCC International India Limited. The firm has stated it has a stake in various business verticals such as real estate, tourism, health and trading. It has been involved in several infrastructure and engineering projects in various countries. However, EMCC has said the proposed project in Kerala is its maiden entry into the marine industry.