ISLAMABAD: While rejecting the government plea seeking suspension of Sindh High Court verdict that restrained action against sugar mills in response to recently disclosed Sugar Inquiry Commission report on Thursday the top court asked sugar mills association counsel to file written reply in the matter by July 14.
Notably, federal government had formed Sugar Inquiry Commission (SIC) under chief of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to probe into a sudden shortage of sugar that resulted in a steep hike in its prices in January 2020. Unveiling its preliminary report on April 5 the SIC claimed that sugar mills belonging to the country’s politicians including PML-N’s Shehbaz Sharif’s, PTI’s Jahangir Tareen, Khusro Bakhtiar and PML-Q’s Moonis Elahi were among the beneficiaries of the crisis. Besides, in its forensic report which the SIC issued on May 21, accused the sugar mill owners of earning illegal profits to the tune of billions of rupees through unjustified price hikes, benami transactions, tax evasion, misuse of subsidy and purchasing sugarcane off the books.
Taking up the matter, a two-member bench led by the Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed observed as to why the sugar mill owners invoked jurisdiction of the Sindh High Court after reaching out to Islamabad High Court.
Responding to an arguments that the bench has to examine whether the inquiry commission was impartial while providing opportunity of hearing to sugar mill owners, the Attorney General for Pakistan submitted there was no need to hear the stance of the owners terming the inquiry commission as a fact-finding commission. He further submitted that the report was an eye-opener – he claimed that all executive authorities have been activated against it.
During the course of hearing the Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed inquired as to how the SIC report can impact the mill owners, asking them about their concerns on the matter whereas the Chief Justice also asked form the lawyer for sugar mill owners as to why he is seeking a stay order as it was just a report by the commission.
Makhddom Ali Khan, the counsel for sugar mill owners, then responded saying that the executive action has been challenged by some sugar mill owners in various courts, adding that invoking jurisdictions of two high court was a routine matter. However, the Chief Justice observed that government is responsible for the existing situation as it opens an inquiry that led to court cases.
Responding to the bench query, Makhdoom Ali Khan submitted that the Sugar Mills Association had invoked the Islamabad High Court jurisdiction in its personal capacity saying if there are impactful fact-findings in any report then a claim can be made.
A member of the bench Justice Ajazul Ahsan observed that apparently the SIC did fact-finding and it identified ‘deal’ and several other aspects, adding if the state institutions issues show-cause notice then the sugar mills owner should submit his stance there. Besides, the Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed remarked that so far no action has been taken against any sugar mill.
“Sugar mills will get nothing out of declaring the report illegal,” observed the Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed whereas Justice Ahsan added that the regulatory authorities can take action without mentioning the report.
“Sugar mills have the complete right to defend themselves before the regulatory authorities,” remarked Justice Ahsan, adding that according to the SIC report the sugar mills owners were not given opportunity of hearing saying their rights would be protected.
Attorney General for Pakistan said that the commission pointed out political nexus, however, he believes that no medial trial should be carried out against anyone. “I have told the government not to give instructions to any institution on this matter,” he said, adding that he has urged the government to let the institutions work independently in this regard.
“The federal cabinet took back instructions earlier given to the institutions upon my recommendation,” said the principal law officer of the country. He submitted that the report brought forth the nexus behind the crisis, to which Justice Ahsan said that it seems that Federal Investigation Agency and other institutions lack capabilities to perform well.
After hearing the arguments, the top court rejected the government’s plea against barring action on the SIC report, adjourning the case until July 14 with directives to sugar mills counsel to submit written reply in the matter.
The writer heads a leading news wire service ‘The Law Today Pakistan’ commonly known as TLTP. He has a special focus on news relating to superior courts adjudication, access to right of information, civil, political, social and economic rights under the approach that existing cyber regime realization ensures procedural fairness in administrative law. He can be reached at email@example.com