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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Will SC allow the government to take action against sugar mafia?

Top court set to hear government against high court order nullifying sugar inquiry commission report

The Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan has fixed for hearing an appeal of the federal government against a high court order invalidating the sugar commission inquiry report. The federal government had earlier this year approached the top court to challenged the Sindh High Court’s (SHC) decision of nullifying the report.

A three-member bench of the SC will take up the plea tomorrow. The bench includes Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Gulzar Ahmed, Justice Mushir Alam, and Justice Ijazul Ahsan.

Analysts are of the view that since the apex court has already nullified a verdict of the SHC in this regard, and allowed the federal government to go after the sugar mafia, there is a clear likelihood that the court shall set the verdict aside.

A Lahore-based lawyer believes that the SHC’s verdict is “not based upon legally sound basis” and therefore “the apex court shall set it aside”.

“The court is likely to determine whether the federal government has a lawful authority to form a commission and assign it an inquiry into a serious matter like the sugar crisis in Pakistan. The law, I think, has some basis for it,” he added.

Sindh High Court nullifies the sugar report

On August 17, an SHC division bench, comprising Justice KK Agha and Justice Omar Sial, announced the reserved verdict on a petition filed by the Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA) against an inquiry commission formed by the government to probe into a sugar crisis that hit the country earlier this year.

Read More: SC allows government to go after those involved in recent sugar crisis

The SHC declared the report of the Sugar Inquiry Commission null and void and also ordered the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to carry out an independent inquiry into the matter as per law.

SC sets aside order of SHC

Notably, a few days ago, the federal government approached the Supreme Court against the SHC stay order which barred authorities from acting on the recommendations of the inquiry report on the recent sugar crisis which witnessed an artificial surge in the price of the commodity. The apex court had allowed the government to proceed further against the sugar barons accused of hoarding and profiteering by the sugar inquiry commission.

In its order, the apex court directed federal authorities to “operate in accordance with the law”. The court also cautioned the government against taking “unnecessary steps” against sugar mill owners. The verdict annulled the SHC ruling of June 24 which had restrained the federal authorities from taking action against around 20 sugar mills of Sindh on the inquiry report.

The court also directed the high courts of Sindh and Islamabad, where cases pertaining to the matter were pending, to issue a decision within three weeks.

Sugar Commission Inquiry Report: PTI’s JKT found involved? 

The government had on Feb 20 constituted an inquiry committee to probe into a sudden hike in sugar price and shortage of the commodity across the country. It was asked to ascertain if the production this year was less than past years, and if the low produce was the prime reason for the price hike and whether the minimum support price was sufficient.

Subsequently, on May 21, the commission delivered its report, identifying potential violations of laws by different manufactures of sugar and others acting in collusion or in concert with the manufacturers of sugar thereby being liable to possible legal action(s) or proceedings as warranted under different statutes.

Read More: Power corridors’ prolonged association with sugar mills

SC allowed the government to go after sugar mafias but it is important to remember that on the directions of Prime Minister Imran Khan, the reports of the inquiry committees tasked to probe sugar and wheat crises in the country were made public on the 4th of April.

According to the inquiry committee, there are six groups which control about 51% of the production of sugar in Pakistan, JKT’s Group JDW, controls 19.97% production, RYK Group (Khusro Bakhtiar) group control 12.24%, Al-Moiz Group controls 6.8%, Tandlianwala Group 4.9%, Omni Group 1.7% and the Sharif family owns 4.5% of the production, revealed the report.

It is important to note that earlier this year, following the shortage of wheat flour in the country and the subsequent price hike, sugar had also gone missing from the market. Taking notice of the situation, the prime minister had formed a committee to find out those responsible for the crises.

PTI’s senior leader, Jahangir Khan Tareen, has already questioned the criteria behind the audit of his nine sugar mills and the selection process by the committee formed to probe the matter. He also rejected the sugar crisis report. The PTI leader said that he does not object to the audit of his sugar mills under the committee. “Will the commission discover the reality behind all the sugar mills in Pakistan after conducting an audit of the nine mills?” said the businessman.

Later in June, the Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA) moved petitions before the Islamabad High Court against the constitution of the inquiry commission and its report. Later on, they approached the SHC. However, SC allowed the government to carry out the inquiries as per law.