ISLAMABAD: The top court, dismissing appeals against Lahore High Court verdict, has ordered complete closure of three sugar mills, which were shifted to South Punjab during the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) regime.
The three-judge bench of apex court, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar, while issuing short order has held that machinery of these sugar mills would be removed within two months. However, their buildings will not be dismantled as these can be utilised for other purposes. The reasons of the short order will be issued later.
During the hearing, Additional Advocate General Qasim Chohan told the bench that Punjab government wants to withdraw the appeal against the LHC verdict.
FIA team raids Omni Group sugar mill in Badin
However, Justice Umar Ata Bandial observed that there is another aspect of case wherein after dismantling of these three sugar mills, other mills will do massive crushing and these will get monopoly. The judge believes that the provincial government should take steps for promoting cotton crop in that area.
Aitzaz Ahsan, counsel for Jahangir Tareen, said they have no objection if the buildings could be utilised for other purposes, adding that they have objection over their crushing; therefore, only machinery should be dismantled.
He said that relocation of mills is violating the 2006 notification, wherein complete ban was imposed on the establishment of sugar mills in the province of Punjab. The applicants, however, state that it does not violate the notification.
Earlier, the petitioners claimed that the judgment travelled beyond the mandate of the law and Constitution in ordering removal of civil works and buildings from the property of the family. Removal of civil works could not be ordered by way of punishment, it contended.
“The impugned judgment dated 11-09-2017 has purported to assume control over and to freeze government policy by arriving at factually unfounded conclusion as regards the relative desirability of sugarcane and cotton cultivation in the province of Punjab and the presumed effect of relocation of sugar mills on the cultivation of crops,” says the petition.
It contends that the court has wrongly taken over the right and power vested in the government to determine the question of ‘national interest’ that cannot be adjudged. It presumed that only a particular regional dispersal of sugar mills in existence prior to December 6, 2012 is in the national interest and their relocation will result in adverse consequences for the growth of cotton in Punjab, the petition says.
It says that it is for the provincial government to determine the question of national interest by taking into account not just the speculative impact on one or two crops.
The petition submitted that a judge as well as division bench had purported to determine and freeze forever the agricultural, industrial and economic policy of the province over a static perception of national interest.
These matters were not within jurisdiction of the judges, it said, alleging that the judges had failed to appreciate that sugarcane needs of the province were determined by the total installed crushing capacity in the sugar mills located in it.
The petition stated that there is abundant sugarcane in Sindh, which is readily available in south Punjab and the impact of any relocation of sugar mills to the southern districts on local cultivation is uncertain at best.
Sugar mill owners summoned by Supreme Court
It had claimed that the judgment has usurped the petitioner’s rights under Articles 18 and 151 of the Constitution to carry out business, including production of sugar, at any location of its choice.
In 2015, the provincial government had amended the 2006 notification to allow relocation. This revision led to the relocation of Chaudhry Sugar Mills to Rahim Yar Khan, Haseeb Waqas Sugar Mills to Muzaffargarh and Ittefaq Sugar Mills to Bahawalpur. These mills are believed to be the property of the Sharif family.
In 2016, however, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) senior leader Jahangir Tareen through his lawyer Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan had challenged the relocation of mills in the Lahore High Court, arguing that the amendment was only made to benefit the Sharif family and that the relocation was illegal.
In September 2017, the high court declared the relocations illegal and ordered that the owners of the mills return to their previous locations within three months. Later, three sugar mills, which are believed to belong to the Sharif family, challenged the LHC judgment in the apex court. Interestingly, the PML-N led government had also approached the SC against the order.