As the EMCC India International-Kerala government deal has become a hot topic in the state following Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala’s revelation, coastal activists have started their protest against the deal. Meanwhile, the Kerala government has cancelled the company’s deal with Kerala State Inland Navigation Corporation (KSINC), while the deal with Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) continues. However, the persistent problem isn’t the deal itself, but the nature of the deal. Experts have drawn parallels between allowing corporates into deep-sea fishing and the BJP Centre’s Farm Bills, and here is an explainer of how it is.
Farming and fishing are two activities that are commonly engaged by traditional communities. These communities are often sociologically limited to their roles as farmers or fisherfolk. Moreover, the fishing community can also draw parallels with the tribal communities as they are often related to their ecological surroundings, and any change in that can severely affect these communities. In short, we have two factors to consider — traditional roles and ecology.
The farm bills, apart from many other things, introduce contract farming. One of its many criticisms is that it will make the farmers labourers in their land. Interestingly, if the deal is true, and if EMCC is allowed to engage in deep-sea fishing by using local fisherman, then it will relegate them into daily wage labourers and limit their freedom and access to their ecology. This takes away their limited agency within their ecology, thereby causing irreparable damage to their communities.
Moreover, large-scale farming as part of corporate culture has always been considered a problematic venture, mainly because it isn’t aimed at sustainable production but more or less about profits. A prime example of this would be when PepsiCo filed a case against Gujarat farmers for “illegally” growing potato varieties of which the company owned intellectual property rights. This also pertains to how crops are determined according to their market values, and not as per the national demand, thus severely affecting food distribution among the public.
The same could be the future of fishing if corporates are to employ traditional fisherfolk as part of unorganised labour. Unchecked deep-sea fishing could not only lead to depletion of marine resources and affect those fisherfolk that is not part of this corporate mechanism. While a “policy” “protects” the traditional fishing community, an introduction of a larger corporate mechanism without first modifying labour and fisheries policies could severely undermine the economic prospects of the communities.
The central government in their questionable wisdom claims that they have not removed Minimum Support Price and Agriculture Produce Market Committee after passing the three controversial farm bills. However, a quick perusal of the documents will tell you that there is no mention of Minimum Support Price, which is essential for the benefits of the farmers. This is important because, without MSP, the traders can fix the price as per their requirements without serving the needs of the producers. This also means that government procurement as per public requirements could also be limited, which will severely affect public granaries and the public distribution system.
Coming to the fishing community, apart from the lack of labour codes, a corporate entry could effectively lead to a monopoly over the trade leading to loss of livelihoods and communities. While the state government has cancelled the deal between the KSINC and EMCC India, the latter’s deal with KSIDC regarding the allocation of four acres of land at Mega Food Park still stands. The two deals are different aspects of a bigger project. While the KSINC deal allows the manufacturing of trawlers and mother ships necessary for fishing, the KSIDC deal allows a processing plant and manufacturing unit, completing the process allowing for gaining a monopoly over the industry.
An economic translation is often lost in this conversation. Most small fishermen will keep aside a share of their catch as food for their respective domestic use since they might not get the expected money for their catch. On the other hand, this right over their catch doesn’t exist if they are contract labours for a corporate entity. While they might be paid a daily wage for their service, it is important to note that a proper policy needs to be in place to facilitate such a working environment.
While the state government opines that the farm bills are detrimental to the farming community, they engage in a direct deal with an American company allowing deep-sea fishing in Kerala. All of this happens inside an obscure legal environment, while the state ministers make public claims that such a deal is against the fisheries policy of the state. On the other hand, EMCC India President Shiju Varghese has told media organisations that despite having multiple interactions with the state authorities including Fisheries Ministers Mercykutty Amma, they were never informed of the fact that the deal was against the fisheries policy.
Experts believe that the state government has no authority or legal process to allow or block fishing in the deep seas as long as it is an Indian fishing vessel. In fact, there is no Centre mechanism to license or disallow fishing by Indian fishing vessels. In such a scenario, the deal is suspect at best. All of this is happening in a legal (or lack thereof) framework, thereby creating an obscure policy confusion through which a corporate is handed over key mechanisms — manufacturing of trawlers and other ships and setting up of processing and manufacturing plant — allowing a monopoly on a trade that is the essential livelihood of many communities in the coastal area.
The cancellation of the KSINC deal would mean nothing if the KSIDC deal still stands. Industries Minister EP Jayarajan is yet to admit to the existence of such a deal and the LDF leaders are blaming it on the officials. The KSIDC deal provides EMCC India with the infrastructure necessary to release the final product into the market. Meanwhile, the KSINC deal can always come back as it is the only subsidiary to the original KSIDC deal, meaning that even though they are under the aegis of two departments, the KSINC deal follows from the KSIDC agreement, and so when the latter stands the former can follow anytime later.
In the case of the Farm Bills, the BJP leaders made public claims about how they are not “throwing away MSP” and “disregarding APMC”. However, the actual documents do not reflect these public claims. There is no mention of MSP and no support for APMC in the three bills. Interestingly, the same difference exists between what is on the document and ministers’ claims in the Kerala example. EP Jayarajan refuses to accept the existence of the KSIDC deal, LDF leaders want to blame the “non-existent” deal on the officers, and the CM made public rhetoric of cancelling one aspect of the project and calling it the protection of rights of the coastal community. All of this while the left leaders make a public stand, claiming that the Farm Bills will destroy the system by allowing corporate players into the field.