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ISLAMABAD: The Ittefaq Sugar Mills Limited, believed to be owned by the Sharifs, has approached the Supreme Court to assail the Sept 11 Lahore High Court order of dismantling the sugar plant from the relocated area of Bahawalpur within three months.

The entity had relocated its sugar mills from Pakpattan district to Bahawalpur district for commencing crushing at the new site for the 2015 season when a ban was already in place on establishment of new sugar mills or expansion of the existing ones.

Now the petitioner, through senior counsel Salman Akram Raja, has argued that the 2006 notification does not impose a restriction on relocation of existing sugar mills since such a move would leave the total crushing capacity installed in Punjab unchanged.

Appellant argues before SC that the high court’s judgement has usurped its fundamental right to carry out trade and business at a location of its choice

The petitioner has named 15 different individuals and government departments, including the Punjab chief secretary, provincial secretaries of industries, commerce and investment, agriculture, environment protection department, food department, etc, as respondents.

Earlier, a number of petitions, including by JDW Sugar Mills Ltd, Ashraf Sugar Mills, Indus Sugar Mills, etc, were moved before the LHC in which a plea was taken that the relocation of the existing sugar mills would amount to establishing a new sugar mill in the local area.

The Ittefaq Sugar Mills, however, argued before the LHC’s single bench that the ban was applicable to the case of setting up of a new sugar mill as well as enhancement in the existing capacity. Therefore, the petitioner’s case being of relocation does not cover under the ban notification.

When the Punjab government’s point of view was sought during the proceedings before the LHC, the court was told that a high-powered committee was considering this aspect. Later, the Punjab government, through a fresh notification of Dec 4, 2015, regularised the relocation of the factory by clarifying that the ban notification does not cover the relocation of the sugar crushing unit.

Subsequently, the regularisation notification was challenged by different sugar mills, including Ittefaq Sugar Mills, which were taken up by Justice Ayesha A. Malik who, after hearing the same, suspended the relocation notification and later decided against the present petitioner on Oct 10, 2016.

Consequently, an intra-court appeal was instituted by Ittefaq Sugar Mills, but the LHC had on Sept 11, 2017, upheld the Oct 2016 verdict and ordered the sugar mills to dismantle the facility in three months.

Now the appellant company argued before the Supreme Court that the LHC division bench was not justified in conclusively holding that the company violated the earlier orders of the court and also that the high court wrongly directed the factory to restore and restitute its previous position.

The appellant argued that the LHC judgement had usurped its fundamental right to carry out trade and business, including production of sugar, at any location of its choice.

When Ittefaq Sugar Mills was established in Pakpattan district, there was an average sugarcane cultivation of 50,000 acres and per acre average crop or yield was approximately 550 maunds, the petition argued, adding that with the passage of time the total cultivation reduced to 8,000 acres during 2013-14.

Due to decreasing availability of sugarcane in the area, the mills was forced to function below its available capacity which has constrained its business viability. Contrary to the situation in Pakpattan, Bahawalpur has shown great growth in sugarcane cultivation and at present there were approximately 400,000 acres under sugarcane cultivation.

Thus the relocation of the mills to Bahawalpur would mean enabling the commercial survival of the company which, the petitioner claimed, was in the interest of the public exchequer given that the petitioner was one of the largest payers of both sales and income taxes.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2017