Sindh High Court’s (SHC) two-member bench on Monday lashed out at the provincial government for not doing enough to resolve the stand-off over sugarcane price between the crop’s growers and sugar mill owners.
In November 2017, acting upon court orders, the Sindh Sugarcane Control Board had fixed the rate of sugarcane at Rs182 per 40 kilogrammes for 2017-18, a decision rejoiced by the growers but rued by the millers.
Despite clear orders, millers continued to deny growers the set price, with some even shutting down their mills, leading the farmers to protest before the matter was taken to the court.
In Monday’s hearing, crop growers’ counsel Mureed Ali Shah argued: “The mill owners are not suffering [from this stand-off], the farmers are.”
“SHC fixed sugarcane’s price but the mill owners shut down their mills,” he added, stating in the petition that doing so was a defiance of the court’s orders and warrants contempt-of-court action against Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (Pasma).
Justice Aqeel Ahmed Abbasi held the provincial government responsible for letting the issue reach this point, saying: “Sindh government has deliberately created this problem. It seems they’re not interested in resolving the issue. As always, it appeased the mill owners and left the farmers on their own.”
Accusing the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government of neglecting its duties, the SHC judge said: “The government can’t do its own job and then criticises the judiciary. Then they say the courts aren’t working and that judicial reforms are needed. Why isn’t the Sindh government taking this seriously?”
Justice Abbasi linked the government’s indifference on the matter with parliamentarians’ stake in sugar mills, saying: “I’m sorry but if strong personalities from the government and the parliament become sugar mill owners then this matter will never be resolved. It’s unfortunate that like Punjab, in Sindh too parliamentarians are involved in the sugar mills business.”
Mill owners advocate, Advocate Farogh Naseem, in his clients’ defence argued: “The fixing of sugarcane price to Rs182 is resulting in a daily loss of Rs7m to Rs8m for us; we cannot buy the crop at that price. We are helpless against market mechanism.”
Naseem did offer a possible solution to the impasse, suggesting: “The government should fix the price of sugar too. Either fix the price of both sugarcane and sugar or let both of them run free.”
The millers’ counsel attributed the falling sugar price to a diminishing demand, telling the court: “The global production of sugar has increased. Before, the federal government used to purchase sugar from sugar mills but that doesn’t happen anymore.”
Naseem asked the court to refer the case back to the sugarcane board for a fresh fixing of the price, whereas the Sindh Advocate General recommended that the provincial cabinet take a look “as the price notification was sent without the cabinet’s approval”.
Noting that any further delays on the matter could result in huge losses for the farmers, Justice Abbasi asked the advocate general to consult the government and find a mutually agreed upon solution.
“We want to give a judgement that keeps sugar mills from shutting down but at the same doesn’t incur losses for the farmers either,” he said.