U.S. firm backed at fishers’ cost: Chennithala

Leader of the Opposition ‘lets out’ pact between govt., trawling firm; CPI(M) denies allegations

Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala on Sunday said the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government had put the livelihood of the large coastal community on the line by manoeuvring behind the scenes to permit a U.S. deep-sea trawling conglomerate to harvest marine wealth off the coast of Kerala.

Mr. Chennithala, who is on his Aishwarya Kerala Yatra’s final leg, ‘let out’ the firm’s agreement with the government to modernise the State’s marine fishing industry. He waved two ‘memoranda of understanding’ between the firm and the government.

They allowed the company to build, launch, and operate a large fleet of deep-sea trawlers backed by motherships, modern harbours, and seafood processing hubs.

The Kerala Shipping and Inland Navigation Corporation and the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation were signatories to the agreement.

‘Fishers not consulted’

The government had agreed to provide ‘time-bound clearances and infrastructure support’ to the firm to commence ‘commercial operations’ without consulting the fishing community or other stakeholders. The government also allowed the company four acres of land in a mega food processing park in Alappuzha.

Mr. Chennithala said the plot to deprive fishers of their livelihood by granting foreign corporates unfettered access to the State’s marine wealth was long in the making. Industries Minister E.P. Jayarajan and Mr. Vijayan were the prime movers. Fisheries Minister J. Mercykutty was their emissary. She had hosted the company’s representatives during her visit to the U.N. in New York in 2018, he alleged.

CPI(M) acting State secretary A. Vijayaraghavan slammed Mr. Chennithala for making a ‘mountain out of a molehill’ to raise the bogey of corruption where none existed.

Two government entities had signed exploratory MoUs with an entrepreneur to weigh various options to modernise the State’s ageing deep-sea fishing fleet. They had not entered into any legal contract with the company. The Cabinet would give MoUs the go-ahead only after examining whether they were congruent with the LDF’s policy. Not every MoU became an agreement, he said.

BJP stance

BJP spokesperson B. Gopalakrishnan said the episode smacked of a brazen attempt by the CPI(M) to sacrifice fishers’ interests at the altar of corruption. Mr. Vijayan owed the public an explanation.

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