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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Deep-sea fishing controversy in Communist-ruled Kerala

Bowing to public pressure the Government of Kerala has been forced to cancel a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that it signed with an American company to allow foreign companies to engage in deep-sea trawling along the coastline of Kerala.

The direct involvement of a couple of Cabinet Ministers and the Chief Minister himself is now out in the public domain: Pinarayi Vijayan the Chief Minister, J Mercykutty the Fisheries Minister, and EP Jayarajan the Industries Minister. All three denied any talks or agreements between the government and the foreign entity but now it’s become clear that this denial is in fact a blatant lie.

J MERCYKUTTY – KERALA FISHERIES MINISTER

Two government of Kerala entities were used to deal with the American company. One is the Kerala Shipping and Inland Navigation (KSINC) that reports to the Chief Minister himself and Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) that works under the Industries Ministry (EP Jayarajan). Both these government departments are headed by IAS officers. Pinarayi Vijayan is also known to be an autocrat who insists on his involvement in each and every file that the Kerala Government handles and is not known for his delegation skills.

Mercykutty now trying hard to whitewash the government’s crimes by blaming the IAS officers is pretty absurd, and the public and the opposition would have none of this. This has also forced the honest IAS officers to defend themselves which is even more embarrassing for the Communists.

What is deep-sea trawling?

An exclusive economic zone exists along the coastline of Bharat and extends 370 kilometers from the coastline. Foreign vessels fishing in these waters is banned. Apparently, this is done to protect the livelihood of local fishermen. This was not the case from 1997 to 2017 when foreign vessels were permitted and were active in these waters and this is when the central government came out with laws banning them. This is what the Kerala state government tried to utilize, allegedly illegally. 

Deep-Sea trawling is a big business involving enormous trawling boats and other vessels. Trawlers cast large nets that are then dragged along the ocean floor or at specified depths as per the availability and density of fish. Cranes are used to then pull in those nets and a good catch on an average-sized trawler pulls in tonnes of fish.

Like the rest of their policies, the communist regime in Kerala allegedly went ahead and secretly signed deals with American companies to permit them to operate off the coast of Kerala. Neither the opposition parties nor the representatives of the fishermen themselves were consulted. The warm waters are ideal for fish to breed and are a livelihood for lakhs of fishermen who work and live all along the 600 odd kilometers coastline of the state. 

Role of the ‘consultant’

The idea was to find an investor to pump in funds for deep-sea fishing using state-of-the-art equipment that included five mother vessels and 400 deep-sea fishing trawlers. It also includes the upgrade of existing harbors as per EU standards, 50 seafood processing plants, hospitals, and air ambulances for fishermen. The project was supposed to engage a lakh and a half local fishermen too, which was the real carrot dangler.

Large-scale commercial trawling is an issue not just here but anywhere in the developing world. They eat into the livelihood of small fishermen by deploying huge nets and the sheer scale of operations makes the locals lose out. That the small nets do not have the capacity to reach such depths is another matter. 

The environmental damage is also extensive considering the absolute scale of operations thereby depriving the local fishermen by depleting the resources. Developed countries like Japan, Canada, the US, European and Scandinavian countries then process the fish onboard and export it to countries of their choice. 

The Kerala government policy

The much-publicized official policy of the Communist Kerala government has always been a ban on corporates and International companies who are called ‘bourgeoisie’ and have been traditionally shunned, in most sectors and especially in the farming and fishing sectors. This is also probably why the Kerala Government shrewdly held secret meetings and decided to engage a US-based Company as a ‘consultant’ to engage in deep-sea trawling. 

That there are many Bharatiya corporates engaged in deep-sea fishing in other states is also something that should be mentioned. This makes the Kerala Government deal even murkier.

The US Company

It is alleged that talks have been taking place since 2018 in this regard between the government and the said consultancy and that the actual paperwork did move around this time last year.  The consultant is a Company called EMCC International and is headed by a Malayali, Shiju Varghese, and is based out of the US.

EMCC has no experience whatsoever in deep-sea fishing and is involved in civil construction in the US. Others associated with the firm are into international trade, logistics, marketing, and shipping. EMCC and its explanations are dodgy at best and it is alleged that they are a fraudulent entity that exists on paper only. That the state government decided to deal with a company that was registered after the project report was submitted and that too involving an amount of Rs. 5225 Crores is also highly suspicious.

It has now become crystal clear that EMCC neither has the funds and that it was used as a dummy to illegally obtain commissions by selling off the sea wealth of Kerala to a fourth party, once the groundwork had been done. It is alleged that EMCC is now creating a ruckus since some commissions have changed hands and the state government has gone ahead and canceled the MoU.

Clandestine meeting and arrangements

In April of 2018, EMCC alleges they met Mercykutty, her husband, and her private secretary at a hotel in New York. The next year in July, EMCC executives came down to Thiruvananthapuram and worked on the paperwork with KR Jyotilal, the fisheries secretary of Kerala. In August of 2019, they met Pinarayi Vijayan at his official residence. Later that year, the Kerala Government officially wrote to the External Affairs Ministry asking for EMCC credentials, as is required by law before it engages with any foreign company.

By January 2020 EMCC were invited to an investor meeting arranged by the Government of Kerala (incidentally organized by amongst others, M Sivasankar IAS the tainted principal secretary to Pinarayi Vijayan and the fraudster Swapna Suresh of the gold smuggling scam) and were issued an MoU to engage in deep-sea fishing activities signed by an IAS officer. In February of this year, EMCC was allocated four acres of government land near Alappuzha for setting up a processing plant by KSIDC. EMCC then agreed to ‘manufacture’ the vessels and ‘develop’ the ports in partnership with KSINC. EMCC then sought cabinet approval for this project.

This is when the opposition and the local fishermen came to know that their government is out to sell their sea wealth and this is when the protests began and have ultimately ended in the communist regime having to cancel the whole project and backtrack on its commitments to the foreign firm.

That the bulk of the fish, especially the rare and big ones are being imported out of the country is something that has been happening for many decades. Private players buy the fish from local fishermen and transport them to processing plants in Karnataka and Goa, which is also indicative of the labor trouble that plagues Kerala.

Having lost all over Bharat, Kerala remains the only state where the communists still remain and they consider this state as an ATM for their nefarious schemes. Will the people of the state stand up against a corrupt regime this time during elections is something that only time will tell.


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