Govt challenges SHC decision on sugar inquiry body

Published August 28, 2020
The petition contended that the commission was not legally required to individually hear all parties/ respondents under the Commission of Inquiry Act 2017, — AFP/File
The petition contended that the commission was not legally required to individually hear all parties/ respondents under the Commission of Inquiry Act 2017, — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The federal government on Thursday moved the Supreme Court to seek suspension of the Sindh High Court’s Aug 17 order that had declared the constitution of the sugar inquiry commission — formed to probe the recent crisis of the commodity in the country — and its report illegal.

Filed by Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan, the petition argued that the high court had quashed the notification constituting the inquiry commission on pure technical grounds when the summary for appointing all seven members of the commission had been duly approved by the federal cabinet.

The petition has cited 20 different sugar manufacturers as respondents.

It contended that none of the sugar manufacturers, including the respondents, ever did or could claim lack of knowledge of the proceedings of the commission which also fully interacted with the Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA) of which the respondent manufacturers were members.

The petition argued that the SHC had grossly erred in law and facts and based its order under challenge on completely unjustified assumption that the aggrieved party in this case was the group of manufacturers of sugar.

“The glaring yet completely ignored reality is that the real and truly aggrieved party in this matter is millions of captive consumers who are being grossly overcharged the price of an essential commodity i.e. sugar by a cartel of sugar manufacturers completely dominating the market,” it regretted.

Besides the consumers, the petition said, there were thousands of poor growers of sugarcane who are also the aggrieved party as they had been consistently denied adequate payments for sugarcane grown by them with their untiring efforts.

“The public at large also suffers billions [of rupees] in evaded taxes owing to under reporting of the actual production by the manufacturers,” the petition alleged, adding that it was in order to redress these grievances of the public at large and to make an essential commodity available to them at a reasonable cost while ensuring swift recovery of public revenue that an impartial commission of inquiry comprising public servants of unimpeachable reputation were appointed by the federal government to unravel the true facts and expose the inner workings of this industry.

The petition argued that the SHC had quashed the fact-finding report, which otherwise imposed no penalty nor resulted in any adverse action on its own while also nullifying the appointment of the commission of inquiry.

It said that though the federal government had only passed on the fact-finding report to the statutory authorities, bodies, etc, concerned for appropriate action strictly in accordance with the provisions of the respective statutes, this action matrix too though duly approved by the federal cabinet was also quashed followed by adverse observations against the functionaries of the federal government who were engaged in lawfully pursuing the cases before the authorities concerned in public interest and for the benefit of millions of consumers and growers.

“It is submitted that being contrary to law and the facts as well as the judgements of court, the impugned judgement is liable to be set aside by the Supreme Court,” the petition said.

It contended that the commission was not legally required to individually hear all parties/ respondents under the Commission of Inquiry Act 2017. Even otherwise, it said, the commission had the mandate to regulate its own procedure under the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act 2017.

“The exercise undertaken by the commission could not be aborted or stopped on the assumption that the reputation of the respondents may be adversely affected. The remedy for damage to the reputation, if any, could lie in a suit but not in writ jurisdiction nor any finding on disputed facts could be given in writ jurisdiction.

“The federal government or its functionaries are under obligation to act in public interest and probe all cases and to promptly follow up the proceedings before departments, authorities or bodies as it directly affects the fundamental rights of the people at large,” the petition said.

Published in Dawn, August 28th, 2020

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