The Kerala government has invalidated the Kerala Shipping and Inland Navigation Corporation’s (KSINC) controversial agreement with a U.S.-based firm, EMCC International, to build and operate a deep-sea trawling fleet to harvest the marine wealth off the coast of Kerala.

In one stroke, the government has also attempted to stymie the Opposition’s political gambit to stir up resentment against the ruling front for entertaining an investment proposal that seemed at odds with the vast coastal community’s inalienable right to harvest their traditional fishing grounds exclusively.

KSINC managing director N. Prasanth and Shiju Varghese recently inked the ₹2,950 crore pact to build 400 deep sea fishing trawlers and new harbours and for the port development activities.

The government found the agreement contravened the Left Democratic Front’s policy to allow only traditional fishers to own or operate deep-sea trawlers. Only they would receive new boat permits.

Govt. stand

The government felt the KSINC had “missed” the critical proviso when inking the agreement. The KSINC “failed” to vet the firm before inking the memorandum of understanding. The company “lacked” the financial heft to build a vast fleet and allied infrastructure. Its seed money was less than ₹10 lakh, an official said.

The Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) also appeared taken in by the firm’s pitch to build modern fishing harbours and a marine product processing centre. Consequently, it agreed to allocate four acres for the firm in an industrial park in Alappuzha. The government found the firm had attempted to take advantage of its programme to modernise the State’s ageing fishing fleet incrementally.

Home Secretary T.K. Jose is examining the sequence of events that led to the signing of the agreements.

Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala said shifting blame to officials would not help the political executive. The government could not absolve itself of the guilt of sacrificing traditional fishers at the altar of private business. The motive for engaging the U.S. firm remained suspect, he said.

Congress workers led by T.N. Pratapan, MP, protested in front of the KSINC office in Kochi.

EMCC International India Private Limited president Shiju Varghese came out against the cancellation of the agreement. “On what basis is the government cancelling the MoU? We are not any monopoly who are coming to plunder the fish stock of the State. Why did the Fisheries Minister not tell us prior if the project is against the State’s Fisheries’ Policy?” he told a television channel.

(With PTI inputs)

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