New Delhi: The government intends to table a draft legislation next month to tighten its control over fishing, minerals and security in the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the seas, but the move is being contested by coastal states and fisherfolk.

Sea change: The draft legislation aims to tighten controls over fishing, mineral wealth and security in the country’s exclusive economic zone. Indranil Bhoumik/Mint

“The Bill is aiming at the scientific control of the fishing, mineral wealth and security arrangements in the EEZ," minister of state for agriculture K.V. Thomas said.

India’s EEZ starts at 12 nautical miles (around 20km) from the coast and extends till 200 nautical miles. The country currently does not have any law to regulate activities in the zone, except some guidelines by the external affairs ministry.

The draft legislation, if passed into law, is also expected to provide financial and technical support to fisherfolk and restrict deep-sea fishing by foreign-owned trawlers, Thomas said.

“As we have to ensure the availability of marine products for export, the legislation will also look at exploring and maximizing the fishing possibilities in the deep seas," the minister added.

Indian fisherfolk in the 1990s vehemently protested deep-sea fishing in the country’s waters by foreign trawlers. A committee set up by the Union government in November 1994 made several suggestions on the issue, some of which have been incorporated in the latest draft. For instance, the Bill proposes that Indians should hold at least 51% ownership of deep-sea trawlers.

But coastal states such as Kerala have objected to the proposal, fearing increased interference by New Delhi. Thomas said the draft legislation does not deal with any state’s territorial sea, which extends to 12 nautical miles from the shoreline.

Some fisherfolk are also unhappy with the draft Bill. To voice their concerns, the National Fishworkers’ Forum organized a demonstration in the Capital on Monday.

“The biggest problem with the draft Bill is that it gives no indication as to who will, or should, benefit from the management and regulation of fishing in India—the ordinary fishermen, the new class of absentee owners who have already cornered the bulk of the fish resources, Indian corporations and investors who are interested in profits from the sea or foreign companies that may be potentially interested in our resources," the forum said in a statement.

Vijayan M.J., a campaigner against the draft legislation, agreed. “The legislation will have adverse impact on the fishermen in the country," he said. “Instead of adopting a bottom-up approach, the government has come out with something, which is far from ground realities."