Kerala govt scraps deal with US-based firm

Kerala govt scraps deal with US-based firm for deep sea trawler manufacturing

The Kerala government has scrapped a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with a US-headquartered firm’s Indian subsidiary for developing deep-sea trawlers in view of the allegation of allowing foreign firms to carry out deep sea fishing.

The opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala of the Congress had raised the issue alleging that the CPM-led Left Front government was trying to help a US firm to venture into deep sea fishing in Kerala, which was against the state’s policy.

The fresh allegation that came up while the Assembly polls were approaching was turning out to be politically crucial for the left-front as it could influence fishermen communities across the state, which is considered to be crucial vote banks. The Congress is also trying to cash in on the opportunity with even Congress leader Rahul Gandhi scheduled to have interaction with fishermen in Kollam district on Wednesday.

In an alleged bid to wriggle out of the row by making an IAS officer scapegoat, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Fisheries Minister J Mercy Kutty blamed it on the official who inked the MoU and pointed out that the officer earlier served as opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala's private secretary.

The controversy is over a memorandum of understanding signed this month between the EMCC International India, a subsidiary of US-based EMCC Global Consortium, and the Kerala Shipping and Inland Navigation Corporation (KSINC), for building 400 trawlers. The MoU for the Rs 2950 crore project was signed by KSINC managing director N Prasanth and EMCC International India president Shiju Varghese.

Another MoU was also signed by the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) and EMCC for Rs. 5,000 crore investment in research and development in the field of deep sea fishing. KSIDC on February 3 allotted four acres of land for 30 years lease at a mega food processing park in Alappuzha district for a lease amount of Rs. 5.5 crore.  

Government sources said that the MoU between EMCC and KSINC for deep-sea trawler manufacturing was only being scrapped as the controversy was over that project only and that even the government secretary concerned was also not aware of the project. Additional Chief Secretary (Home), who is also in charge of inland navigation, was also directed to inquire into the matter and give a report.

Prasanth served as private secretary to Home Minister while Chennithala was the home minister in the previous Congress government in Kerala. Hence the left-front leaders were now trying to allege a ploy by the IAS officer and the opposition leader.

What caused more embarrassment to the government was the initial reactions of the Chief Minister and ministers denying the allegations. However, the opposition leader stepped up the attack by bringing out documents and even photographs in support of his allegations that the Kerala government's deals with EMCC were with the knowledge of the ministers. It was also alleged that the company representatives called on the Chief Minister also earlier.

 EMCC president said that the projects were mooted and MoUs signed after the Kerala government published its fishing policy. Hence what is the reason for scrapping it now, he asked. 

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