Facing oppn, Kerala CM cancels fishing contract with US firm (Ld)

Following a huge controversy after Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala called out Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan-led government in Kerala over signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a US-based firm for promoting deep sea fishing in the state, the Kerala government on Monday cancelled the fishing contract. It also asked top bureaucrat T.K.Jose to probe the matter.

Chennithala on February 19 launched a blistering attack on Pinarayi Vijayan and challenged him to order a comprehensive probe into allowing a US firm to engage in manufacturing boats and big ships, besides handing over deep sea fishing activities off the Kerala coast.

The controversy began last week when Chennithala released a copy of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between EMCC — a US headquartered company which has its operations in India and the Kerala Shipping and Inland Navigation Corporation, an organisation which comes directly under the Pinarayi Vijayan government.

When the controversy erupted, Fisheries Minister J. Mercykutty denied having met anyone from EMCC.

But when Chennithala came out with the fishing contract details and pictures, Mercykutty said so many people come and meet her and it was unfair to drag the Kerala Chief Minister into the matter.

Vijayan also feigned ignorance of such an MoU but when Chennithala again revealed that the US company officials had met Vijayan at his office in Thiruvananthapuram, Mercykutty deviated from her stand and said there was nothing wrong if investors come and meet Vijayan with proposals and criticised the bureaucrat who had inked the MoU.

“IAS officials have a feeling that they know everything under the sun. Will anyone sign such a contract for the manufacture of 400 trawlers,” Mercykutty added.

Reacting to the sudden decision of cancelling the MoU, Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) Lok Sabha member, N.K. Premachandran, said it is not surprising to see the MoU being cancelled.

“They (Kerala government) have no other option available other than cancelling the MoU because they have been caught red-handed. Earlier, they said there is no MoU signed, then they retracted saying nobody has met anyone and when every defence by them was exposed with proper documentary evidence, they blame the bureaucracy,” Premachandran added.

EMCC Director Shiju Varghese said they have been working on the fishing project for more than two years and have met everyone, including the Kerala Chief Minister.

“We really do not know what wrong we have committed and it’s just two days back, we felt that things are not going in a proper way. Lot of efforts have been put in by us for this fishing project,” said a peeved Varghese.

Earlier on Monday, Chennithala challenged Vijayan to order a probe into the matter.

“Ever since I unearthed this unscrupulous deal which is nothing but selling the ‘seas’ of Kerala to a US firm, I have been attacked as a conspirator,” Chennithala said.

“I challenge Vijayan to order a comprehensive probe into the matter. I have no issues to face it, but will you (Vijayan) face it?,” asked Chennithala.

Chennithala said, “The precious fisheries wealth of Kerala has been handed over on a platter to EMCC, which has its operations in India. Vijayan has feigned ignorance and also assured that nothing that would affect the interests of the fishermen community of the state would be taken up.

“I have done nothing wrong and the only thing I have done is brought this deal out in the open. Vijayan is feigning ignorance and the truth of the matter is, he had a meeting with the CEO of the US firm at his official residence and till now he has not admitted to holding this meeting. Even Mercykutty who first initiated the talks, continues to tell lies. The Pinarayi Vijayan government has been telling one lie after another about this project,” said Chennithala.

“This is now being perceived as a project that was the creation of the bureaucrats. But it’s been three years that the Vijayan government has been talking about this project. Strangely even the Assembly has been kept in the dark about this fishing project.”

“Even after talks and deal was inked with the EMCC, two questions asked in the Assembly, we have failed to get any answer while details of other MoUs inked have been revealed. So by now everyone knows who is trying to keep things under wraps. I challenge Vijayan to order a probe,” said Chennithala.