Hundreds of sugarcane growers attempted to stage a protest near Bilawal House in Karachi on Monday, condemning delays in the crushing of harvested sugarcane by millers and corruption in the fixing of the official price of sugarcane in the province.

The protesters tried to block a thoroughfare near Bilawal Chowrangi before police intervened and arrested around 70 to 80 growers over charges of attempting to enter the Red Zone "and trying to disrupt the supply of oil to other parts of the country", Clifton SP Assad Malhi told Dawn.

While talking to Dawn, the protesters complained that influential mill owners had been exploiting sugarcane growers and offering them only Rs140 for 40 kilogrammes of sugarcane instead of Rs180, which is the official price guaranteed by the government.

In an earlier report, the growers had alleged — calling it "an established fact" — that of the 34 mills in Sindh, 19 are owned by Asif Ali Zardari. "That’s why the Sindh agriculture minister is helpless in ensuring the commencement of the crushing season," they had said.

The inordinate delay in the purchase of sugarcane on one pretext or the other had passed over into the crushing season, the growers said on Monday. They also complained that, owing to the delay in the purchase of sugarcane, the wheat sowing season had also been affected, resulting in significant financial difficulties for farmers.

A police official said the protesters had been asked to take their protest to the Karachi Press Club, but they had not agreed to do so, following which “light action was taken against them in which some 70-80 protesters have been taken into custody”.

“There were women too among the protesters, but we haven’t arrested them,” Malhi clarified.

Sindh Home Minister Sohail Anwar Siyal later addressed a press conference and claimed that the issue was being politicised, adding that “actual sugarcane growers were not part of today’s drama”.

Siyal held the federal government responsible for the situation and said that the Sindh government had no authority over mill owners till December 15, 2017.

The Sindh home minister also asked the authorities to release the arrested protesters.

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