Bangladesh Awami Matsyajibi League is supposed to work for the welfare of fishermen. But the pro-Awami League organisation has hardly been seen doing so since its inception in 2004.
Also, most of the members of its 111-strong central committee don’t even belong to the fishermen community. They have nothing to do with fisheries either.
Besides, Matsyajibi leaders claim the organisation has a staggering 3.5 crore members across Bangladesh, which is almost one fifth of the country’s population.
Department of Fisheries data, however, shows that the total number of fishermen in the country is around 24.55 lakh. They include some 2.67 lakh shrimp and 22,244 commercial fish farmers.
The number of the registered fishermen is some 16.20 lakh, according to the data.
Still, if anyone goes by the claim of the Matsyajibi League leaders, there remains a big question: What services does the organisation, with so many members, provide to the fishermen community?
The leaders also claimed that they have committees even at village and bazar levels.
They said the central committee has 111 members while each district committee 67 members, upazila committee 45 members, union committee 31 members, ward committee 25 members, and village and bazar committee 11 members.
Despite this claim, the organisation has not yet got the affiliation -- front or associate body -- of the ruling party.
Besides, the Matsyajibi League’s website mentions the AL central office on the capital’s Bangabandhu Avenue as the organisation’s head office. However, a visit to the building revealed that there is no such Matsyajibi League office there.
In such a situation, the organisation is going to hold its 4th council at the capital’s Suhrawardy Udyan today, with a hope of becoming an associate body of the AL.
The event is scheduled to be inaugurated by the party’s General Secretary Obaidul Quader at 10:00am.
With the slogan “Oikya Karma Pragati”, Matsyajibi League was founded in 2004 in a bid to unite the country’s fishermen community. The organisation leaders claim fishermen, despite all their hard work, have always been the most deprived community in the country.
Sayedur Rahman and Abdul Basher were the organisation’s first president and general secretary, despite having no links with fisheries.
Currently, Matsyajibi League is being led by Narayan Chandra Chanda and Sheikh Asgar Noskar. Narayan is a ruling party lawmaker from Khulna-5 and a former school teacher while Noskar owns a fishing ship.
Narayan got engaged in Matsyajibi League politics in 2016 when he was the fisheries and livestock minister, said sources in the organisation.
Currently, there are allegations that many Matsyajibi League leaders take bribes to influence government authorities so that they give leases of waterbodies to the people of their choice. The leaders also allegedly receive extortion money from fish markets across the country.
Sheikh Asgar Noskar, member secretary of the convening committee of Matsyajibi League, rejected the allegations.
He blamed it on three government-registered organisations -- Matsyajibi Samity, Matsyajibi Samabay Samity and Khudra Matsyajibi Samabay Samity.
Of the three, Matsyajibi Samabay Samity and Khudra Matsyajibi Samabay Samity are registered with the Department of Cooperatives.
Noskar, however, admitted that members of these three organisations are also ex-officio members of Matsyajibi League.
Contacted, a senior official of the Department of Fisheries told The Daily Star that when the ministry leases out any waterbody to any applicant, it consults with Matsyajibi Samity leaders about the applicant’s identity. Only fishermen are allowed to take the waterbodies on lease, he said.
“We discuss with Matsyajibi Samity to scrutinise the identity of the applicant,” said the official, wishing not to be named.
Meanwhile, talking about today’s council, Noskar said they hoped the AL high-ups would make an announcement recognising his organisation as an associate body of the party.