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Former Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) secretary general Jahangir Tareen, along with five other mill owners, on Wednesday told the Supreme Court (SC) that he is willing to buy harvested sugarcane from all farmers affected by the suspension of sugar mills operations, DawnNews reported.

The offer was made while a three-member bench of the SC headed by Chief Justice (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar heard a petition against a Lahore High Court (LHC) order to relocate three sugar mills that are believed to be owned by the Sharif family.

In the petition, filed last year, farmers and mill owners had urged the court to overturn the LHC's decision arguing that the halting of crushing has affected cane growers since they are unable to sell their harvest.

On Wednesday, the SC had given Tareen — a defendant in the case — two options: either the cane be processed after a commission is paid to crushers, or that the entire produce that, according to the prosecution, is current rotting, is bought by Tareen.

In today's hearing, Tareen and five other mill owners assured the court that they will buy the entire produce on government rates. The CJP warned that the transactions will be monitored closely by the court.

The farmers raised some objections over the announcement, saying that the businessmen had not specified how they will buy the cane. Defence attorney Aitzaz Ahsan responded that the rate of the cane will be determined by the sugar cane commissioner.

Dismissing the objections raised by the farmers, Justice Nisar cautioned them against becoming someone else's "mouthpiece".

"We (the court) gave relief to the cane growers and stopped sugar mills from illegal operations as well," the CJP announced. He further said that he will listen to cane growers' arguments only when he is sure of their "sincerity".

The hearing was adjourned until April 18. The CJP said that he will listen to further objections in his chamber.

Sugar mills relocation and high court decision

In December 2006, through a notification, the Punjab government had banned the establishment of new sugar mills and the expansion of existing mills. The prohibition included the relocation of mills as well.

However, in 2015, the provincial government had amended the 2006 notification to allow relocation. This revision led to the relocation of Chaudhry Sugar Mills to Rahim Yar Khan, Haseeb Waqas Sugar Mills to Muzaffargarh and Ittefaq Sugar Mills to Bahawalpur. All three of the firms are believed to be the property of the Sharif family.

In 2016, however, Tareen had challenged the relocation of mills in the LHC, arguing that the amendment was only made to benefit the Sharif family and that the relocation was illegal.

In Septemeber 2017, the high court declared the relocations illegal and ordered that the owners of the mills return to their previous locations within three months.

The LHC's decision was soon challenged by mill owners in the apex court with Tareen as a defendant.