Opposition parties in the Sindh Assembly, nationalist leaders and farmers are raising the ante to prevail over the sugar mills that are openly flouting the official order of the sugarcane purchase price.
Hundreds of people, led by leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F), Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, nationalist and religious parties blocked Super Highway for six hours on Tuesday in protest.
Though the conflict involves the mills and the growers, the provincial government of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) took the rap as the party’s co-chairman Asif Zardari is accused of being the owner of at least 17 of these mills. “The way the interests of millions of farmers are being trampled proves that the PPP is no longer the party of the Bhuttos but one occupied by Zardari, who owns a majority of the sugar mills in Sindh,” said the former chief minister, MPA Arbab Ghulam Rahim.
The cane purchase process has been delayed by nearly four months as the Sindh Sugar Factories Control Act stipulates the start of the process from early October after officially notifying the rates. The Sindh government belatedly fixed the cane price at Rs182 per maund in December but the mills are adamant to pay only Rs155 per maund. The growers claim that at this price, they cannot even meet the cost of cultivating the crop.
The leader of the opposition, MPA Shaharyar Mahar, warned that if the people of Sindh did not rise in protest, the rulers would carry on exploiting them with impunity. “Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should not think of Sindh as an independent state. It is part of Pakistan. He should intervene and convince the Sindh government to protect the rights of the people and not the leader of their party.”
Sindh Abadgar Board president Abdul Majeed Nizamani complained that the government had continuously ignored their protests over the last three months. Nizamani asked the chief minister to hold a trilateral meeting between the millers, farmers and the government and allow the media to cover its proceedings.
MQM’s Rabita Committee leader Ghazi Salahuddin said the sit-in was an attempt to wake the chief minister from his slumber. “But if he still does not wake up, we will go to the CM house to disturb his sleep.” He accused the provincial information and local government minister Sharjeel Memon of occupying forest land but assured the protesters that all the land will be freed.
PML-F MPA Nusrat Sehar Abbasi complained that a range of local and global issues were discussed in the Sindh Assembly but the ruling party fended off any attempt to bring to the floor the plight of the farmers. She was confident that their protest will force the government to accept their demand.
Sindh United Party’s president Jalal Mehmood Shah said that Qaim Ali Shah was a unique chief minister who felt proud of being a titular powerless head of the provincial government. He urged the prime minister to rise above his politics of reconciliation with Zardari and intervene to help the farmers get their rights.
The protesters dispersed after over six hours of the sit-in. The organisers announced that another sit-in on the highway will be staged on February 11 followed by a larger protest in Karachi. The movement of traffic between Karachi and Hyderabad remained suspended as the motorists were advised to take the alternate route of the National Highway from Karachi to Hyderabad via Thatta.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 28th, 2015.