Centre faces contempt over trawler verdict

| | New Delhi / Kochi
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Centre faces contempt over trawler verdict

Monday, 03 December 2018 | PNS | New Delhi / Kochi

The Centre faces contempt of  court for not adhering to timeline for framing new guidelines in monitoring and controlling of foreign deep sea trawlers operating in India's exclusive economic zone. Recently, the Kerala High Court asked Department of Fisheries under Ministry of Agriculture to appear on December 5 for not implementing the order of June 2017 to study and frame new guidelines to prevent the deep sea loot by more than 1,000 foreign fishing trawlers by just paying Rs 10,000 per year for getting permit.

In June 2017, expressing shock on the Centre's apathy in keeping an eye on these foreign trawlers, the High Court ordered that the Department should conduct and expert study and publish the study report on the Ministry's website. The High Court order came on the public interest litigation filed by an activist MK Salim, exposing how foreign trawlers were taking the sea wealth to abroad in ships parked in deep sea. During the hearing, the CBI also filed its report about their probes and found that many fishing companies were registered as foreign though the owners were actually Indians. The petitioner also pointed out that many of these fishing trawlers were patronised by power full politicians in South India and Western India. 

Interestingly, the Centre admitted to the Court that it didn't have the statistics on   these foreign trawlers allowed to fish in the Exclusive Economic Zone even as the e  Coast Guard's report  pointed out that they had frequently  found that these trawlers transshipped the fish to foreign vessels waiting in deep sea. Thousands of tones of sea wealth were looted by these fishing trawlers by just paying Rs 10,000 per year for past decades.

During the arguments, the Ministry assured that these lacunas will be settled in the forthcoming 'National Policy on Marine Fisheries' and will soon implement the fish catch data by Fishery Survey of India by obtaining from vessels. The Government said that as per the estimates around 500 to 700 tonne per year is expected to have caught by these vessels.

"There is no dispute about the fact that the issue raised by the petitioner is of great concern. Even according to the reports that had been filed fore this Court, the procedure adopted was not transparent enough to ensure proper accounting of the sea wealth that was being caught by Indian vessels having LOP. The fact that Government of India had decided to withdraw the LOP scheme by itself proves that the fact that they system of LOP Scheme was not successful," said the Judgment by  Justices AM Shaffique and Anu Sivaraman.

The High Court ordered that Ministry of Agriculture "shall constitute a competent committee to conduct an enquiry into the loss suffered by Government of India on account of misapplication or non-implementation or lack or procedural formalities in implementing the LOP scheme and a report shall be obtained within a period of six months which shall b e published in the website of the Ministry and appropriate action shall be taken based on the said report." 

In November 2017, the petitioner approached the High Court again pointing out that the Ministry has not yet moved an inch on this regard. The Petitioner alleged that the Centre was not acting due to the pressure from many lobbies involved in the deep sea trawling and ignoring the Court's order and not yet even appointed a study committee on the "deep sea loot." Initiating contempt of court procedures, the High Court has now asked the Ministry of Agriculture to appear before it on December 5.

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