Contrary to the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government’s claims, new reports suggest that the state government had signed the first Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with US-based EMCC on the deep-sea fishing deal.
According to sources, the MoU signing took place between Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) and EMCC at the ASCEND Global Investors’ Meet in Kochi on February 28, 2020. Reports suggest that KSIDC Managing Director MG Rajamanickam signed the MoU as a representative of the government, meaning that the LDF government signed the deal with EMCC.
Reportedly, encouraging deep-sea fishing in Kerala was one of the promises of the MoU. The reports also point out that the government would back EMCC to launch the project and nearly 25,000 jobs would be created through the project, which was supposed to begin on September 2, 2020.
While Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Fisheries Minister J Mercykutty Amma have repeatedly denied having any knowledge of the deal, the truth, however, is far from it. When opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala furnished documents of the four-acre land the government allegedly allotted to EMCC and the signed MoU, the government denied the deal.
Initially, the Fisheries Minister said she never met the representatives. However, after Chennithala showed photos of a meeting between Mercykutty and EMCC officials, the Fisheries Minister later admitted to meeting EMCC India representatives and had talked with them but didn’t come to an agreement since “deep-sea fishing went against the Fisheries policy of the state”.
The Kerala government said that EMCC signed deals with Kerala Shipping and Inland Navigation Corporation (KSINC) and KSIDC, and the government had nothing to do with it. The state government also claimed that KSINC MD Prasanth Nair had been acting on his own when he signed the deal. The same was said about the KSIDC deal.
Industries Minister EP Jayarajan, under whom lies KSIDC, and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, under whom lies KSINC, denied knowledge about the deal and went so far as to claim that such deals did not exist. However, according to reports, the EMCC president clarified that the company’s representatives convened talks with Vijayan twice — one at the CM’s residence and another at the Kerala Secretariat.
How can the CM deny that he did not know the details of the deal? Reports also point out that before KSINC signed the MoU, the Chief Minister’s office and the head of the concerned department were informed about the deal. Moreover, while cancelling the deals the state ministers had explained that the MoUs have a validity of six months, but according to sources, no such limit was mentioned and thus if not cancelled it would have been still valid.
Meanwhile, Vijayan went on to criticise KSINC MD Prasanth Nair at an LDF rally without taking his name. The Chief Minister said that IAS officers should not learn from WhatsApp University and such messages should not be used to mislead the public. Vijayan alleged that there was an attempt to create evidence by sending messages on WhatsApp.
“In government offices, the papers are passed on in the form of files. Nobody has received the file sent by the corporation [KSINC] and the concerned minister and secretary are unaware of this file. There is a clear conspiracy behind this and many WhatsApp messages were sent,” Vijayan said, adding that these messages were sent to mislead the public.
The Kerala Chief Minister said that if a person sends messages like this, the public would reply “okay”. However, that doesn’t imply that the public accepts the message, it only means that they have read the message. The CM also went to say that the Congress-led government at the Centre had allowed large foreign trawlers to fish in the deep sea and that Congress and the BJP had adopted the same policy in such matters.
Meanwhile, EMCC owner Shiju Varghese, who is contesting in the upcoming Kerala Assembly elections, surprised many with the asset declaration. He claimed that he had only Rs 10,000 on hand, and it has been called into question especially considering how he approached the state government with a deal worth Rs 5,000 Crore. Moreover, with no land assets to his name, he skipped media enquiry into his shares in the companies under EMCC.