Centre assails Sindh govt-sugar mills ‘nexus’

Published November 9, 2021
Energy Minister Hammad Azhar addresses a press conference at the PTV headquarters in Islamabad on Monday. — APP
Energy Minister Hammad Azhar addresses a press conference at the PTV headquarters in Islamabad on Monday. — APP

• Minister deplores ‘conspiracy against federal govt’ over price hike
• PM orders action against mafia, hoarders under relevant laws

ISLAMABAD: With sugar prices skyrocketing on the eve of fresh sugar production season, the Centre on Monday squarely blamed a ‘nexus between the Sindh government and sugar industry’ based in that province for hatching conspiracies against the federal government and vowed to ‘continue waging long-drawn war against the mafia’.

The provincial government and Sindh chapter of the Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA) have “hatched a conspiracy against the federal government”, but this is affecting the people of Pakistan, Energy Minister Hammad Azhar said at a hurriedly called news conference soon after Prime Minister Imran Khan presided over a meeting on price control.

Mr Azhar said he had been directed by the prime minister to give a briefing on sugar prices because his relevant colleague — Minister for Industries and Production Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar — and his family were involved in sugar business and he had excused himself.

He alleged that sugar mills in Sindh, which normally began sugarcane crushing on October 15, had started boilers this year too, but then the boilers were switched off.

A statement issued by the PM Office said the meeting, presided over by the prime minister, was attended by Hammad Azhar, Industries Minister Khusro Bakhtiar, Food Minister Syed Fakhar Imam, Law Minister Farogh Naseem, Adviser to the prime minister on finance Shaukat Tarin, the FBR chairman, PM’s adviser on interior Shahzad Akbar and special assistant Shahbaz Gill. The chief secretaries and senior officers of Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa attended it virtually.

“Why every political family in the country has sugar mills? What is the attraction that while they fail in all other businesses, they come into the sugar industry and earn whopping profits? This is because of this nexus,” Mr Azhar said, repeatedly blaming the purported nexus for most of the ills causing sugar price hike.

He reiterated the government’s oft-repeated promise to provide sugar to the people at Rs90 per kg as reports suggested its price was hovering between Rs140 and Rs160 in various parts of the country.

While the PM Office said Prime Minister Khan had ordered strict action against “sugar mafia and hoarders” to bring down prices, the energy minister said the ongoing war against cartels could not be won in a month or a year, but promised that sugar prices would significantly come down in two-three weeks.

He said the government would immediately release 100,000 tonnes of imported sugar to the market and ensure its sale price at Rs90 per kg, along with 25,000 tonnes currently available in Utility Stores Corporation stocks, while another 30,000 tonnes of stock was now unloading at Karachi Port.

When reminded that cabinet members, including then finance minister Shaukat Tarin and PM’s special assistant Jamshed Cheema, had been promising at various forums since September 21 to immediately ensure sugar price at Rs89-90 per kg across the country, Mr Azhar said the government had ensured that price at Utility Stores.

He said that unlike other provinces, the Sindh government did not introduce a law on the advice of the federal government under which cases could be registered against or a fine of Rs50,000 per day imposed on sugar mills which failed to abide by the sugar crushing schedule given by the respective provincial governments.

The minister said that before this law sugar mills used to delay sugarcane crushing to blackmail the government and farmers to claim subsidy and secure incentives for sugar export at public expense. He said the law ensured payment of fair return to the sugarcane farmers and cleared arrears of many years in other provinces, but Sindh neither introduced such a law nor took any action so that prices went up and it could criticise the Centre.

Mr Azhar said the Punjab government would ensure operationalisation of sugar mills in south Punjab on November 15 and in other parts of the province on November 20 and failure to run mills would entail law of the land coming into action because “it is unacceptable to have bumper crop and its early maturity but prices also keep going up”.

He recalled that sugar prices had also gone beyond Rs100-110 per kg last year when he was the industries minister but dropped to Rs70 by November with his proactive coordination with all stakeholders and marketing of imported commodity. He said the Centre had taken all possible steps like improving law, increasing punishments, removing duties on import and itself importing sugar and would not be blackmailed by mafias.

“There would be no more subsidy on sugar business and the sugar industry would have to operate on demand-supply mechanism like any other industry,” he said, adding that district administrations had also arrested a few gamblers and recovered hoarded sugar which was being sold at Rs90 per kg.

According to the PM Office, prime minister directed that sugar mafia and hoarders be proceeded against under the Sugar Factories (Control) Amendment Act 2021, Punjab Prevention of Hoarding Act 2020 and Punjab Registration of Godowns Act 2014 on an urgent basis to provide relief to the people. The prime minister was informed that sufficient stocks of sugar were available in the country, but closure of mills in Sindh had resulted in price hike.

Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2021

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