WhatsApp chats show Kerala CM knew about the Rs 5,000 cr deep-sea trawling contract with US firm       

Ever since Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala brought out details of the controversial deal, Vijayan had washed his hands off the matter and had said neither he nor his office had any clue

Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan (Photo Courtesy: PTI)
Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan (Photo Courtesy: PTI)

Ashlin Mathew

In a new development that is damaging to the current Left Democratic Front and the Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, it has come to light that the Chief Minister knew about the Rs 5000 crore deep-sea trawler fishing deal with US-based EMCC International. The documents reveal that the Chief Minister’s office knew about the deal before it was signed. He had earlier dismissed and denied any knowledge or engagement with the company. Vijayan had, in February when the controversy had broken, alleged that the concerned officials had not brought the deal to the notice of the government.

Fresh evidence, which included screen shots of WhatsApp chats between Kerala Shipping Inland Development Corporation (KSINC) managing director N Prasanth and CM’s additional private secretary Dhinesh Bhaskar, highlighted that Prasanth had informed Bhaskar about the deal on February 1, a day before the deal was signed.

After the deal was signed, Bhaskar had congratulated Prasanth for sealing the deal. Prasanth had sent messages to the then additional chief secretary TK Jose, who was heading the inland navigation department. It is Jose who had been tasked by the Chief Minister to investigate the issue once it had become a controversy.

Ever since Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala brought out details of the deal, Vijayan had washed his hands off the matter and had said neither he nor his office had any clue. Under public pressure, the government had cancelled the deal on February 22. But, he had continued to blame Prasanth for the deal.

These documents reveal that the CM knew about the deal. Incidentally, this deal is against the promise made by the LDF in their 2016 manifesto. The manifesto had promised to protect the interests of local fishermen and in 2019 the fisheries policy was to encourage the fishermen become the owners of deep-sea fishing vessels.

When Chennithala had first revealed the deal, initially Fisheries minister J Mercykutty Amma dismissed the allegations and maintained there was no such agreement. Then Chennithala released a photo of Mercykutty holding discussions with EMCC president Shiju Varghese and representatives of EMCC International in Kerala in October. "The company officials have already confirmed to the media that they had held discussions with her at New York too. The photos of that meeting are also expected to be available soon," Chennithala had said in February.

The cornered Mercykutty Amma had to backtrack and admit that the EMCC officials had met her in Kerala, but that EMCC officials had not met her in New York, as alleged by the Opposition. Shiju Varghese had also informed the Industries Minister EP Jayarajan that he had met Mercykutty Amma.

This issue has rocked the Coastal belt which has 40 seats and is key to winning the Kerala Assembly elections. The release of these documents had caused great consternation about the fishermen across the state and the Latin Catholic church, to which many of the fishermen belong to, had come out with a pastoral letter reprimanding Vijayan.

When Vijayan was asked about this deal on Thursday, he appeared miffed and stated that the release of the documents “pointed to a conspiracy behind this. A 'big' officer has played a role in it. Everything will be revealed in the probe.”

Congress general secretary Randeep Singh Surjewala, in a press conference, stated that the Consulate General of India in New York had conducted an extensive inquiry about the US firm involved in the deep-sea fishing scam and sent the necessary details to the LDF government on October 21, 2019. This was revealed on the floor of the Lok Sabha on March 17, 2021.

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