LAHORE: The Lahore High Court has stopped close relatives of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif from shifting five of their sugar mills to new locations.
PTI secretary general Jahangir Khan Tareen and the owners of Indus Sugar Mills and RYK Sugar Mills, among others, had filed a petition on Dec 6, 2006, challenging the Sharif families’ plan to relocate five sugar mills despite a ban under the Punjab Industries (Control on Establishment and Enlargement) Ordinance 1963.
The petitioners alleged that the Sharif family was planning to set up new sugar mills under the pretext of relocation. They slammed a notification issued by the industries department on Dec 4, 2015, which allowed the owners of 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. They had said that the Sharif family had managed to obtain permission to move the sugar mills despite a ban.
“The notification was issued to facilitate and legalise the establishment of new sugar mills owned by the Sharif family,” said the petitioners’ counsel.
The petitioners had said that Ittefaq Sugar Mills were owned by Nawaz Sharif, Hassan Nawaz Sharif, Hussain Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz, Kalsoom Nawaz and Hamza Shahbaz, among others. Haseeb Waqas Sugar Mills were owned by Haseeb Ilyas, Zakia Ilyas, Shahzadi Ilyas and other family members. Abdullah Sugar Mills were owned by Mian Mohammad Ejaz Miraj, Yasmin Riaz and other family members.
The counsel representing the respondents told the court that several of the aforementioned mills had already been shifted elsewhere and others were being constructed at new locations.
The petitioner’s counsel argued that over the years, the provincial and the federal governments had prohibited the establishment of new sugar mills in Bahawalpur, Muzaffargarh, Rajanpur and Rahim Yar Khan in order to protect the cotton crop.
The respondents argued that the relocation policy had not violated the ban on establishing new sugar mills. “Relocation of a functional sugar mill is not the same as setting up one from scratch.”
The provincial government’s lawyer said there was a need to relocate sugar mills on account of changes in cropping patterns and environmental conditions. Since relocation of the factories in question had not enhanced overall sugar production capacity, the counsel argued, there was no violation of a ban or damage to the national interest. He argued that that the policy had aimed to allow relocation in order to protect the sugar industry.
In the verdict announced on Monday, Justice Ayesha A. Malik observed: “The government is entitled to make policies for good governance and the courts in general do not interfere in policy matters.”
The judge restrained the government from claiming that the relocation of sugar mills would not create bias, hurt the national interest or promote the sugar industry. Justice Malik ruled: “The mandate of an elected government is based on trust and public confidence. Both elements find their tools in transparency, good governance and fairness in the decision making process. Any conflict of interest, in fact or perceived, could destroy public trust and malign the decisions making process.”
The judge held that the respondent sugar mills had failed to comply with the requirements of environmental laws and had admittedly not obtained the required permission.
The verdict ruled that the industry department’s notification allowing relocation had helped the respondent sugar mills circumvent the ban and establish sugar mills in areas where the mills could adversely affect the cotton crop. Justice Malik observed that the government should take necessary legal action in this regard.
Published in Dawn October 11th, 2016