SC adjourns petition against SHC order to stay Sugar Inquiry Commission proceedings

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SC adjourns petition against SHC order to stay Sugar Inquiry Commission proceedings

ISLAMABAD-The Supreme Court on Thursday adjourned the hearing on the appeal filed by the Federal Government against the decision of the Sindh High Court to stay the proceedings on the recommendations of the Sugar Inquiry Commission (SIC) till July 14.

The apex court also directed the case to be fixed before a three-member bench and sought written arguments from the lawyers of the Sugar Mills Association.

        A two-member SC bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Gulzar Ahmed and comprising Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan, however, did not suspend the SHC order.

During the course of proceedings, Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan said that the Islamabad High Court had also given a decision over the matter and asked whether this was not brought to the notice of SHC.

The Attorney General said that the decision of the Islamabad High Court was mentioned in the petition of Sugar Mills.The interim order of the Sindh High Court did not mention the decision of the Islamabad High Court. 

He said that the commission's report had revealed many allegations against sugar mills.

The Chief Justice asked why not the commission had given the sugar mills a chance to explain their position.

The Attorney  General said that there was no need for the stance of sugar mills in the fact finding commission. However, the commission's proceedings were not suspended, he added. 

He said that all executive authorities had been activated and the commission's report was an eye-opener.

Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan asked whether any action had been taken against the sugar mills on the report of the commission.

The Attorney General responded that some sugar mill owners filed petition in Peshawar High Court and some owners filed petition in Balochistan High Court.

He said that some sugar mill owners did not want the authorities to act on the report.

The Chief Justice asked this was a commission report and why mill owners wanted stay on it.

Advocate Makhdoom Ali Khan, counsel for sugar mill owners said that the executive orders were challenged by the owners in different high courts.

He said that it was not unusual that mill owners approached the high courts.

Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan observed that the same mill owners who approached the Islamabad High Court went to the Sindh High Court. He asked how could the same association approach two different high courts?

The Chief Justice asked what was the concern of the mill owners on the report of the Sugar Commission?

The counsel stated that the Sugar Mill Association approached the Islamabad High Court. He said the commission's report only suggested recommendations.

He said that if there was an impressive finding in a report, a case could be filed. 

Justice Ijaz observed that apparently the commission did a fact finding. The commission identified the deals and many other things, he added. 

He said that the report of the commission had been sent to the concerned agencies for action.

He asked the sugar mills owners to submit their stance before the state agencies if they (state agencies) issue show cause notices.

The Chief Justice said that no action had been taken against any sugar mill so far.

Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan said that according to the report, the sugar mill owners were not heard.

He said that rising sugar prices had caused a stir across the country.

He said that the cabinet had forwarded the report to the concerned agencies.

Addressing the counsel, Justice Ijaz asked Sugar Mills Association wanted the report to be annulled. He said that if court annulled the report the relevant institutions would have to again start working from zero and that way, it would take ten years. 

Makhdoom Ali Khan said that the court had to see whether the commission was formed in accordance with the law. It remained to be seen whether the commission was impartial, he added. 

He said that it also remained to be seen whether the commission heard to the stance of the sugar mill owners. 

He said that if these things were not taken care of, the courts could intervene.

The Chief Justice asked how could the commission's report affect sugar mill owners?

Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan said that the Islamabad High Court ruled that the commission was formed in accordance with the law.

The Chief Justice said that the government had set up commissions on several occasions but no reports had been released. 

He asked how the Sugar Commission report affected the rights of sugar mills.

Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan said that this was a big issue that had affected people. 

Makhdoom Ali Khan said that the government had stated the people had been taken over by a segment of society.  He said if the government could not stop this with the help of state institutions then why were they sitting here.

He said that no gazette notification was issued for the establishment of the commission. Gazette notification of any inquiry commission must be issued, he added. 

The Chief Justice asked whether the Sugar Commission report been published?

Makhdoom Ali Khan said that the federal government had accepted the report of the Sugar Commission.

The Chief Justice asked could the Sugar Commission report be used as evidence?

Makhdoom Ali Khan responded that the report could not be used as evidence without questioning the commission members.

The Chief Justice said that the status of the report was for fact finding inquiry only.

Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan said that after the Islamabad High Court, the sugar mill owners approached the Sindh High Court.

He said that the rights of sugar mill owners were fully protected.

The attorney general said that the commission pointed out political nexus, however, he believes that no media trial should be carried out against anyone.

He said that the the government had been asked to allow the agencies to work independently on the report. He said that the Federal Cabinet, on his recommendation, withdrew the instructions given to the institutions.

The Chief Justice said that this situation had been created by the government itself as it should file cases after investigations.

The Attorney General said that after reading the report, it became clear how the collusion took place.

He said that the stay order of the Competition Commission had been in force for 11 years.

Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan said that many institutions, including the FBR, might lack competence.

He said that the names of the commission members were in front of everyone but no one challenged them.

He asked if the formation of the commission was illegal, why it was not challenged first?

He asked why would the members of the commission be biased against the sugar mills?

Justice Ijaz said that gazette notification was necessary so that nothing was kept secret.

He said that the formation of the Sugar Commission was publicized in the entire media. 

Makhdoom Ali Khan said that an intra-court appeal had been filed in the Islamabad High Court.

Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan said that let the Islamabad High Court decide on the intra-court appeal.

The Chief Justice said that the Sugar Mill Association could not escape the report of the commission. He said that even if the commission was declared illegal, the report would not end. 

Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan said that regulatory bodies could not be stopped from working. 

He said that sugar mills get nothing even after annulment of commission report. Regulatory bodies could act without reference to a commission report and sugar mills had ample opportunity to defend themselves before the regulatory bodies, he added.

The court sought written arguments from the lawyers of the Sugar Mills Association.

The Chief Justice said that it was not possible to stop the proceedings against some of the accused and continue the proceedings against the rest.

Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan said that the Sindh High Court did not take into account the decision of the Islamabad High Court.

Makhdoom Ali Khan said that the Islamabad High Court had not yet issued a detailed verdict. 

The Attorney General said that no institution would issue an order against Sugar Mills. 

The Chief Justice said that the institutions could proceed without citing the report. 

The Attorney General said that if the institutions were able to operate independently, there would be no need to form the commission.

Makhdoom Ali Khan said that if the decision of the Sindh High Court was suspended, the whole case would be over.

The Attorney General said that 12 sugar mills have approached the Sindh High Court and the order of the high court was limited to the petitioner's twelve sugar mills.

After the arguments, the apex court subsequently adjourned the case until July 14.

The SC also directed that the plea should now be presented before a three-member bench.