LAHORE: The Punjab caretaker government has blamed a Lahore High Court (LHC) order for a steep increase in the price of sugar, saying that due to restrictions on the government to monitor the supply chain of the commodity it failed to stop the smuggling of sugar to a neighbouring country.

According to a report presented to a meeting presided over by Caretaker Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi, the sugar mills and speculators had been charging Rs180 per kg against the ‘very fair notified retail price’ of around Rs100 per kg.

“Since May this year [when the stay was granted by LHC] about 1.4 million metric tons of sugar has been sold by the sugar mills at an average of an additional Rs40 per kg. The sugar mills and brokers/dealers/speculators have thus extorted Rs56bn extra amount solely because of the stay order,” the report added.

The “provincial authorities are unable to check movement of sugar and smuggling to Afghanistan through Balochistan” due to the stay order, the report said.

According to the government, during the briefing about the increase in sugar prices and the issuance of two stay orders by the Lahore High Court, the food secretary informed that the stay orders had prevented the acquisition of sugar mills’ records.

“Owing to the stay order(s), sugar hoarders have enjoyed a free rein, leading to a substantial increase in sugar prices and causing hardship for the people,” it said.

The meeting decided to file an appeal to have the stay orders cancelled. “The advocate general of Punjab has been directed to file the appeal forthwith in this regard.”

A couple of years ago when sugar prices started increasing, the FIA launched action against the country’s top 10 major sugar groups in connection with the ‘speculative price-hike’ of the sweetener.

The FIA had then det­ected Rs110 billion earnings by the sugar mafia through ‘speculative pricing’ and booked owners of the 10 sugar mills, including Shehbaz Sharif, his sons Hamza and Suleman and Jahan­gir Khan Tareen in the sugar scam. However, after the change of government in April last year, these cases were virtually closed.

The price of sugar has already climbed past Rs200 per kilo in some parts of Pakistan. On Tues­day, the commodity was retailing somewhere bet­w­een Rs190-200/kg in Kara­chi, while the wholesale rate was Rs173 per kg.

Published in Dawn, September 6th, 2023

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