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SC halted operation of Sharif family sugar mills

10 February, 2017

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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Thursday halted the operation of three sugar mills, owned by the Sharif family, and remanded the matter to the Lahore High Court (LHC).

The Sharif family and their relatives had shifted their sugar mills to a new land in the garb of interim relief, which was sought from the LHC. A division bench of the LHC gave relief to the Sharif family and their relatives by allowing three sugar mills - namely Ittefaq Sugar Mills, Chaudhry Sugar Mills and Haseeb Waqas Sugar Mills - to continue crushing sugar at the new locations.

The judgement was pronounced on a petition filed by JDW Sugar Mills of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Secretary General Jehangir Khan Tareen, the owners of Indus Sugar Mills and others in 2006. Later, Jehangir Tareen and others, through Aitzaz Ahsan, approached the top court against the interim order.

Now, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, during the course of the hearing, observed that the high court had not taken into consideration the fundamental documents and passed various restraining orders in favour of the Sharif family and their relative.

Justice Umar Ata Bandial, a member of the bench, wondered how a chief executive (chief minister) of a province could form a policy that was extending benefits to his family.

The top court also observed that the interim orders were "non-speaking and mechanical".

The SC directed the LHC's office to fix the matter before a division bench, preferably headed by LHC Chief Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, on February 16, with instructions to the CJ to hear all sides of the case and deliver a verdict within a week. It also directed the counsel for the Sharif family that the order to suspend operation of the mills should not be violated.

During the hearing, Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, the counsel for Jehangir Tareen, contended that the government in 2005-06 had itself taken a policy decision to ban the establishment or enlargement of sugar mills in Punjab.

Citing a 2006 Punjab government notification, which not only banned the establishment of new mills but also the shifting of their location, Aitzaz said that shifting of sugar mills was an illegal move.

He, however, alleged that the Sharif family had set up new sugar mills under the pretext of relocation, adding that the ruling family had managed to obtain permission to move the sugar mills despite a ban.

He contended that a notification issued by the industries department on December 4, 2015 allowed the owners of the Chaudhry Sugar Mills, 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 the units to other districts.

He also contended that the Sharif family's three sugar mills were continuously crushing sugar in southern Punjab in the guise of the LHC division bench's interim order.

He submitted that the ruling family should have been a role model in the country, adding that now they were misleading the superior courts.

Salman Akram Raja, the counsel for the Sharif family, said that an amendment in 2015 to the 2006 notification, overseen by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, made provisions for the shifting of sugar mills from one point to another, although the creation of new mills remained illegal.

When Raja tried to inform the court about the merits of the case, the CJP observed that this court was only hearing the matter of the interim relief. The counsel stated that if the top court stopped the sugar mills from crushing then the owners would face irreparable loss, and the workers would also suffer, adding that the investment of Rs 380 million would be also lost. He requested the bench to allow three sugar mills to continue sugar crushing this season and later the court may ban their operation.

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