Relocation of Sharifs’ sugar mills worries cotton farmers

Senate panel asks about the impact of relocation to south Punjab

Zafar Bhutta February 14, 2017
All Pakistan Sugar Mills Association, the lobby working to safeguard the interests of sugar mills, had sought permission to export 500,000 tons. PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD: The relocation of sugar mills, owned by the Sharif family, to the cotton zone of south Punjab echoed in a meeting of a parliamentary committee that raised queries about the effect of the move on the already declining cotton harvest in the country.

“The Punjab Sugarcane Research and Development Board should tell what impact the transfer of sugar mills will have on cotton production in south Punjab,” asked Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah, Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Food and Security, during the meeting held on Monday.

He pointed out that farmers were seriously concerned over the shifting of sugar mills to the cotton belt.

Terming it an administrative issue between the Punjab and federal governments, Punjab Sugarcane Research and Development Board Director General Shahid Afghan explained that sugar mills were being relocated because of more sugarcane production in south Punjab.

“Contrary to that, sugarcane harvest in central Punjab is comparatively lower,” he said. However, he stressed that crop zones had already been established, which should be followed.

According to an assessment of the Ministry of Textile Industry, around 70% of sugar mills are located in the core cotton zone of the country, especially in Punjab.

The setting up of mills in the top cotton-growing areas and growing crushing capacity of the mills have brought down the cotton-sowing area by 26%, particularly in south Punjab, including Rahim Yar Khan and Muzaffargarh.

Olive plant imports

The parliamentary committee also took up the matter of corruption in the import of olive plants. It was told that misappropriation involving millions of rupees had been unearthed in the project and action was being taken against the officials found responsible. The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) is investigating the issue to recover the money and has arrested Dr Abdul Salam, Riaz Alam, Pervez Gondal and Rafiq, who were allegedly involved in the scandal.

The committee summoned the FIA director general in order to look at further details of the project. The panel chairman suggested that FIA’s top management should give the investigation task to an honest officer.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th, 2017.

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