Kerala CM rejects Oppn charge on deep sea fishing contract with US firm

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Thiruvananthapuram, Feb 20 (PTI) Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Saturday dismissed the opposition charge that the government has entered into an agreement for deep sea fishing contract with a US-based firm, saying no foreign company will be allowed to engage in deep sea trawling in the state waters.

Vijayan asserted that his government will not deviate from its fisheries policy and will continue to encourage the traditional fishermen to become the 'owners of deep sea fishing vessels'.

'We will continue with our fisheries policy drafted in 2019 to encourage the fishermen in the state to become the owners of deep sea fishing vessels.

As per the government policy, no foreign company or Indian corporate will be allowed for deep sea trawling along the Kerala coast,' he said in a press meet here.

Vijayan also respondedto the allegationlevelled by the Leader of Opposition earlier in the day on how the CM could not know about such a project when the KSINC, under his direct control, had signed an MoU with a US-based firm.

'Neither the state government nor any of its departments have not signed any MoU in this regard. KSINC is a public sector undertaking.

It is normal for such undertakings to sign MoUs in any conferences or investment meets. It would come for the consideration of the government only later. A policy decision in this regard would be taken only then,' Vijayan said.

He said such agreements should be brought to the attention of the government at the stage of implementation.

'But, in this case, concerned officials had not brought it to the notice of the government,' he added.

'Actually, a memorandum submitted by the company to the industries department was actually now being propagated by the opposition as the contract agreement,' Vijayan said, adding that it was an attempt by the opposition to create a smokescreen of allegations ahead of the Assembly polls.

The chief minister also lashed out at the Congress and said it was the Narasimha Rao government, which had allowed the foreign corporates to engage in deep sea trawling along the coast of the country.

'However, that's not our policy. We fought against the Congress policy aiding the corporates to exploit the deep seas fishing grounds of the country.

This government is driven forward by such policies opposing the corporates,' Vijayan said.

The opposition Congress and the Left government continued to spar over the alleged deep sea fishing contract, even as Fisheries minister J Mercykutty Amma dismissed the allegations and maintained there was no such agreement.

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

Earlier in the day, Chennithala released a photo of Mercykutty purportedly holding discussions with representatives of EMCC International.

Chennithala alleged that the photo, in which the minister, officials of EMCC International and 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 representatives in NewYork also, photos of which were expected to be available soon.

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.

'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.

'It has now been 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 that 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 of the project and claimed that the Left government had shown keen interest to take it forward. PTI RRT LGK ROH ROH