LAHORE - The harsh and indifferent attitude of the sugar mills owners towards farmers has climaxed into a sugar crisis in the country, as Pakistan is all set to import 200,000 metric tons of sugar to overcome the shortfall, it was learnt reliably. The sugar price has swelled to Rs 44 per kg in the open market with dealers predicting that it would surge to Rs 50 per kg during the next couple of weeks. Sugar dealers blamed the mills owners for creating artificial shortage of sugar in a bid to push the prices upward. The sources concerned disclosed to The Nation that the import of 200,000 tons of sugar matter would be approved in the next meeting of the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) to be held this month in Islamabad. Last year, the country witnessed bumper crop of sugarcane but the sugar mills owners had exploited the situation in connivance with the middlemen and clandestinely delayed payments to the growers of their produce. The payments to the growers were stopped for more than eight to ten months in several parts of the country. This situation discouraged the growers who stayed away from sowing sugarcane crop. "The sugar mills owners are responsible for the shortfall of sugarcane crop and sugar production as well this year in the country. Last year, the growers had become rolling stone in the context of getting the payment of their produce from the influential sugar mills owners. They deliberately delayed the payments, " said Hamid Malhi, Director Farmers Associates, when contacted. Malhi suggested that the government should bring the stocks of sugar available to the Trading Corporation (TCP) in the open market to bring down the prices instead of importing sugar. He said the sugar price is touching Rs 48 per kg in the local market as the cartel of sugar mills owners are creating artificial shortage to gain mint profits. The sugar mills owed Rs 3 billion to farmers by the end of last crushing season, he said, adding that the government should take to task sugar mills owners responsible for delaying the payments. Shamshad Ali, a grower from Okara District said last year, some growers were left with no other option but to set their produce (sugarcane) on fire to protest against the rude attitude of sugar mills owners. He said the growers had launched a series of protests across the country against the delay in payments, low price, etc but there was no one to listen to the grievances of the farmers. "It (crisis) was written on the wall and the owners of sugar mills are responsible for this," he maintained. He maintained that the farmers had to work hard throughout the year to produce the sugarcane crop, and no one could visualise the suffering of farmers when they were deprived of their rights. Mohammad Asghar Butt President Lahore Sugar Dealers Association said this sugar crisis was pre-planned because the government hierarchy is helpless before the sugar mills owners. Last year, he said, the sugarcane growers bulldozed at least 30 to 35 per cent of the produce in the country, as the sugar mills were unwilling to purchase the produce, and they delayed the payments for a long time, which multiplied the miseries of the growers. "The sugar mills owners trigger such crisis to multiply their profit margin. They engineered similar crisis in 2006, 2001 and 1997 because there is no one to question the most influential sugar mills owners," he maintained. He revealed that the sugar price had increased by Rs 10 per kg during the last one month as the mills owners were creating artificial shortage in the market. The country's top politicians including those in the ruling party are the owners of sugar mills in Punjab and Sindh provinces. They are so influential that the government could not take any decision without their consent. "The sugar mills owners had spent huge sums of money their election campaign last year and now they accumulating the money by creating artificial shortage and increasing the prices," an economic expert commented, requesting anonymity. In March 2008, the ex-mill sugar price was Rs 22.30 per kg and it was sold at Rs 24 to Rs 26 in the open market as the country witnessed bumper crop of sugarcane. They had also sold sugar to the TCP at Rs 29 per kg when its ex-mill price was Rs 24 per kg. The TCP had purchased at least 0.5 million tons of sugar from the millers. The sugar mills owners had started refusing to purchase some verities of sugarcane despite repeated instructions of the Punjab government that growers should not be deprived of their rights. Above all, the sugar mills owners had stopped the payments to the growers in Punjab and Sindh province even after purchasing their produce at throwaway prices, stating that they would be able to pay the growers after selling the sugar. "When the industrialists purchase raw material from abroad, they pay in advance and here the case is altogether different. Is this not injustice?" questioned Zafar Iqbal a farmer from Faisalabad. The farmers ultimately started away from sowing sugarcane this year due to the harsh attitude of sugar mills owners, he added. When contacted, Chairman Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (Punjab chapter) Javed Kayani was not available for his comments. "We don't need to comment on this issue," his spokesman replied, when contacted.