ISLAMABAD: The Sharif family suffered a blow on Thursday when the top court halted the operation of three of its sugar mills that were established at new locations in violation of a 2006 ban of the Punjab government.
A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, set aside the Lahore High Court’s (LHC) interim orders that allowed the Sharif family and their relatives to continue crushing of sugar at new mills established in South Punjab.
The bench observed that the LHC had not taken into consideration the fundamental documents and passed various restraining orders in favour of the Sharif family and their relatives.
“We are suspending the crushing of sugar till the final disposal of the case by the LHC,” said the order. The CJP also issued a strict warning against any violation of the court’s order.
While referring the matter back to the LHC, the SC observed that the case be fixed for February 16 before a division bench, preferably headed by the LHC Chief Justice Mansoor Ali Shah.
The court also rejected the Sharif family’s attorney’s ‘mercy plea’ to allow operation of sugar mills for the ongoing sugarcane crushing season, which is expected to conclude by the end of March. The counsel had contended that the halt in crushing would result in a loss of Rs380 million in investments.
“So you are asking us to invoke the principle of mercy and pity in this case?” the bench asked Salman Akram Raja, counsel for ruling family. However, the bench did not entertain his ‘mercy plea’.
Legal experts say that since the restoration of the judiciary in March 2009, it will be the first time that the ruling family has faced a torrid time in court. They point out that in the past the Sharifs managed to get relief from the superior courts, particularly the SC.
LHC Justice Aysha A Malik on Oct 10, 2016 stopped the Sharif family and their relatives to start operation of their five mills at new locations. The judgment was given over a petition, filed by JDW Sugar Mills of the PTI’s Jahangir Tareen, the owners of Indus Sugar Mills and others in 2006.
However, the LHC’s division bench gave relief to the Sharif family and their relatives by allowing their three sugar mills – Ittefaq Sugar Mills, Chaudhry Sugar Mills and Haseeb Waqas Sugar Mills – to continue crushing of sugar. The division bench passed several interim orders in favour of the ruling family.
Tareen and others approached the top court against these interim orders. They were represented by senior lawyer Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan while Sharif family and their relatives engaged Salman Akram Raja.
Ahsan contended that the Sharifs’ three sugar mills were continuously crushing sugar in South Punjab in view of the LHC’s division bench’s interim order. He submitted that the ruling family should have been a role model in the country, adding that the respondents have been misleading the superior courts.
Justice Umar Ata Bandial – a member of the bench – observed that when the court looked into the issue of conflict of interest it questioned how the chief executive of the province (Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif) could draft a self-serving policy.
Giving the background of the case, Ahsan said the government in 2006 took the policy decision to ban establishment and/or enlargement of sugar mills in the Punjab to protect and promote the cultivation of cotton in the specified areas.
He said since 06.12.2006 to date, the government in exercise of its powers under the 1963 Ordinance has imposed a blanket ban on establishment of new sugar mills and the expansion of existing ones.
However, Sharifs set up new sugar mills under the pretext of relocation. They presented a notification issued by the industries department on Dec 4, 2015, which allowed owners of Chaudhry Sugar Mills and Ittefaq Sugar Mills in Sahiwal, Haseeb Waqas Sugar Mills in Nankana Sahib, Abdullah (Yousaf) Sugar Mills in Sargodha and Abdullah Sugar Mills in Depalpur to move their units to other districts.
He said the ruling family had managed to obtain permission to move the sugar mills despite a ban. He said the Ittefaq Sugar Mills is owned by PM Nawaz Sharif, his sons – Hassan and Hussain Nawaz, his daughter Maryam and wife Kalsoom Nawaz, among others.
Hearing of Panamagate case on Feb 15
According to the roster issued by the SC, the apex court’s five-judge larger bench will resume hearing of the Panamagate case on February 15.
The SC on February 2 adjourned hearing of the case initially till Monday (February 6) due to the illness of Justice Azmat Saeed Sheikh, who was hospitalised in Rawalpindi’s Institute of Cardiology.
However, the proceedings could not be resumed this week. A senior PML-N leader claimed that doctors have advised Justice Sheikh to rest till March 5. Justice Azmat will not hear any case on Feb 13 and 14.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 10th, 2017.