KARACHI: The Sindh High Court on Tuesday restrained till June 30 the federal authorities from taking action against around 20 sugar mills of Sindh on the report of a sugar inquiry commission.
A two-judge SHC bench headed by Justice Omar Sial also issued notices to the respondents for the next hearing.
The Mirpurkhas Sugar Mills and around 19 other mills of the province moved the SHC against the report of the inquiry commission against cartelisation and price hike of sugar and pleaded to quash the report.
The bench in its order said the lawyer for the petitioners, Makhdoom Ali Khan, contended that the commission was not properly constituted in accordance with the relevant legislation and it included members who had already made up their minds against the sugar mills as they were also members of an earlier inquiry committee which had been constituted for the same purpose.
The lawyer argued that during the inquiry none of the petitioners were asked for information or clarification regarding the operation and business of their mills and the commission had made observations against them, which had an adverse impact on the business and reputation of the petitioners.
The order further stated that the bench asked the counsel as to how the matter came within the writ jurisdiction of the SHC as no concrete action had been taken by any department against the petitioners.
The lawyer submitted that as a consequence of the observations made in the inquiry report and the ensuing media debates on the subject, a perception had been created that all sugar mills were indulging in unlawful activities.
The counsel maintained that such a perception had been detrimental to the petitioners’ business and in breach of Article 17 of the Constitution. He also referred to certain cases in support of his arguments from the Australian and English jurisdictions.
The bench said that Mr Khan had specifically pointed out two sections of the inquiry report which said 10 mills were selected for audit out of which only nine were forensically audited and the petitioners were not among the nine mills.
The lawyer also submitted that he would argue on other grounds when the matter was heard, which includes whether a letter written by Special Assistant to the PM on Accountability Shahzad Akbar to the National Accountability Bureau was lawful or not.
The bench in its order said, “The issues raised by the learned counsel for the petitioners require considerations. We are also cognizant of the fact that sugar crisis is a national issue and that the same must be addressed in a short span of time. Let this case be relisted on 30.6.2020 under notice to the respondents. In the meantime, the operation of the Inquiry Commission Report to the extent of petitioners shall remain suspended till the next date of hearing.”
It may be recalled that initially the Islamabad High Court had also granted an interim stay order against the operation of sugar inquiry commission report, however, on June 20 the IHC had vacated the same and declared the constitution of the inquiry commission lawful and also validated its proceedings and report.
Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2020