Fishing contract: Cong releases 'photo' of Kerala Fisheries Minister with EMCC officials; minister junks oppn claims

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(Adds minister's quotes) Thiruvananthapuram,Feb 20 (PTI) The opposition Congress and the Left Front government in Kerala on Saturday continued to spar over the alleged deep sea fishing contract with a US-based firm, even as Fisheries minister J Mercykutty Amma dismissed the allegations and maintained there was no such agreement.

Stepping up his attack, Leader of the Opposition in the state assembly, Ramesh Chennithala released a photo of the minister purportedly holding discussions with representatives of EMCC International.

The minister said Chennithala was trying to mislead the fishing community by raising baseless allegations ahead of Rahul Gandhi's expected visit in coastal district Kollam next week.

Chennithala alleged that the photo, in which the minister, officials of EMCC Internationaland the fisheries department could be seen, was proof for the discussion held here between the government and the US based company.

At a press meet, he claimed there was a meeting between the minister and the company representativesin New York also, photos of which were expected to be availablesoon.

He also released what he termed was 'documentary evidence' -- a purported concept note submitted by the company to the fisheries department and the letter sent by the fisheries principal secretary to the EMCC president on the controversial project.

Though the minister admitted that the EMCC officials had met her here, she stood by her earlier stand that there was no such meeting in New York, as alleged by the opposition.

She also asked if anyone came to meet her, would there be a contract.

'The state's fisheries' policy was formulated in 2019 after holding discussion with all trade unions and other stake holders.As per the government policy, no foreign company or Indian corporate will be allowed for deep sea trawling,' she said.

The policy even says that the number of fishing vessels would be regulated, she said, adding that no action would be taken in violation of this.

The photos were made public a day after the state government had rejected as baseless his corruption charge in an agreement inked by the state-owned Kerala Shipping and Inland Navigation Corporation (KSINC) with the US-based EMCC International for the deep sea fishing project.

The Congress leader had alleged corruption involving Rs 5,000 crore in the agreement with the firm and the company had been allowed deep sea fishing.

He had also said the agreement would affect the interest of fishermen community in Kerala.

However, rubbishing the charges, Mercykutty Amma had said the allegations had no merit and Chennithala was speaking of an imaginary agreement.

'It has now become proved that whatever the minister had said were blatant lies.' 'The company officials have already confirmed to the media that they had held discussion with her at New York also in this regard. The photos of that meeting are also expected to be available soon,' Chennithala said here on Saturday.

The Congress leader alleged there was more ample evidence to confirm that Mercykutty Amma had held discussions with the US-based firm and Industries Minister E P Jayarajan was well aware about the project and claimed that the Left government had shown keen interest to take it forward.

Alleging that it was a vicious attempt to cheat the fishermen community, Chennithala also said if the opposition had not found this now, the entire marine wealth of Kerala would have been plundered in two or three years.

He also asked how Chief Minister could not know about such a project when the KSINC, under his direct control, had signed an MoU with a US-based firm.PTI LGKBN BN BN