Deep sea fishing issue damages image of LDF in Kerala; cornered govt cancels Rs 5000 cr agreement with firm

Self goals are not uncommon in the game of political soccer. But two self goals in quick succession? That rare feat has been achieved by the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Democratic Front (LDF)

Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)
Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)

P Sreekumaran

Self goals are not uncommon in the game of political soccer. But two self goals in quick succession? That rare feat has been achieved by the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Democratic Front (LDF). It is as if the Government, which is facing the crucial Assembly elections less than one and a half months away, has been consumed by a death wish. In the process, it has lost the momentum generated by the splendid victory in the local body election and the feel good factor accruing there-from. The Election Commission has in the meantime announced the date for the Assembly elections in five states including Kerala. And the poll in the State will be held on April 6.

The first self-goal came when the LDF Government stubbornly refused to talk to the job aspirants who have been agitating in support of their demands in front of the State Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram. The CPI(M) State Secretariat, worried by the tremendous political advantage the Opposition parties are making out of the agitation, in a rare act of self-assertion, directed the Government to hold direct talks with the protesting job aspirants. In response to the directive, the Government deputed two bureaucrats – Home Secretary TK Jose and Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) Manoj Abraham – instead of Ministers to talk to the protestors. Nothing came out of it.

Now comes the news that the Chief Minister has asked Law Minister A K Balan to meet the agitators. If the Government had done this at least two weeks back, much of the damage caused by the agitation could have been averted. Now that election dates have been Announced, there are limitations to what the Government can do to concede the demands of the job aspirants. But then, timing has never been the strong point of the LDF Government. The delay has obviously enabled the Opposition parties to extract considerable mileage from the entire episode.

The Government scored the second self-goal by reaching an agreement with US-based EMCC International on deep-sea fishing. When Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennitha accused the Government of signing an agreement which would hurt the fishermen community, the Government first denied meeting EMCC officials either in America or in the State, and pleaded ignorance about the deal. Ramesh then produced photographic evidence of Fisheries Minister J Mercykutty Amma having a meeting with EMCC president Shiju Varghese, Fisheries Department joint secretary and other officials on October 28, 2020. .

The cornered Minister changed her stance and said she might have met them but never discussed the deal! Some ‘officers’ might have signed an MOU with ‘certain political intentions’. Chennithala then said the Rs 5000-cr contract to buy 400 trawlers and five mother ships engaged in fishing in the deep sea off Kerala could not have happened without the knowledge of the Chief Minister. Shiju had also informed Industries Minister E P Jayarajan, Ramesh said, that he has already had a meeting with the Fisheries Minister!

Shiju caused further embarrassment to the Government with the claim that he had met the Chief Minister also to apprise him of the agreement. The CM went on record that he does not remember meeting Shiju. The CM and the Industries Minister also claimed they were not aware of the company or the deal. Chennithala, however, came with fresh evidence of the EMCC representatives meeting the Chief Minister and the Fisheries Minister prior to the submission of the proposal in 2020. Another ‘proof’ of the Government’s engagement with the EMCC is the letter Fisheries Secretary K S Jyothilal wrote to the Centre to verify the credentials of the EMCC. Union Minister V Muraleedharan then said the Kerala Government had been told that the EMCC is a dubious company although the State Industries Minister denied any such information from the Centre!

To avoid further damage, a cornered Government cancelled the Rs 2950 MOU signed between the company and the Industries Department at the Ascend 2020 Investors’ Meet. Since then the Government has scrapped the entire Rs 5000-crore deal in the hope of putting an end to the controversy, which saw the Opposition making considerable gains. The Government has also decided to cancel the sanction to the EMCC of four acres of land at the Marine Park owned by the KSIDC for setting up a food processing unit.

The decision to build trawlers by a corporate entity had incurred the wrath of the fishermen community, who decided to launch a hartal in protest against the Government’s decision. The Government’s assertion that the interests of the fisher community would not be affected has not convinced the community and hence their decision to hit the streets in protest.

The Fisheries Minister now blames Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation(KSIDC) Managing Director N Prasanth for signing the deal without the knowledge of the Government! The Government has launched a departmental enquiry against the KSIDC MD. Prasanth has, however, claimed to have evidence of having informed the Government in advance about the agreement.

Views expressed are personal

(IPA Service)

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