ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court of Pakistan Wednesday allowed the federal government’s appeal and suspended the Sindh High Court (SHC) verdict against the report of Sugar Inquiry Commission.

A three-member special bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Gulzar Ahmed conducted hearing of the federation’s appeal against the SHC judgment. The SHC on August 17 had quashed the fact-finding report and the notifications constituting the Commission of Inquiry on Sugar.

The top court of the country also issued notices to the sugar mills owners in the instant matter and deferred the case for one month for further proceedings.

During the hearing, Attorney General for Pakistan Khalid Jawed Khan contended that the federal government had constituted the inquiry commission under the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act, 2017, in order to redress the public grievances and to unravel the true facts and expose the inner working of this industry. He adopted that sugar mills owners’ objection that they were not taken on board while constituting the commission, while the fact is that they were aware of the mandate and working of the commission but they did not raise any objection on commission until its final report, which was approved by the cabinet.

The AGP informed that the cabinet after approving the report had said that the relevant regulatory bodies would take action against the respondents in accordance with law, thus no violation of law made out. He contended that the commission report is merely a fact-finding exercise and cannot be set aside on the basis of apprehension of the respondents against whom no final determination of rights or liabilities has been made in the report nor any action taken as such. The inquiry commission report contains facts and the data that has to be established by the regulatory bodies, so no prejudice is caused to the sugar mills.

He maintained that the subsequent addition of a member in the Commission after the cabinet approval vide notification dated 25-03-20 did not violate the provision of Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act, 2017 and caused bias to the respondents.

The federation on August 27 had filed an appeal praying to suspend the SHC judgment. According to the appeal SHC upheld the Pakistan Sugar Mills Association’s contention purely on technical grounds that the summary for constituting the Commission was initiated by Interior Ministry rather than the Cabinet Division and that the notifications were belatedly published in the official gazette.

The federation contended that the SHC grossly erred in law and facts and based the impugned judgment on completely unjustified assumption that the aggrieved party in this case is the group of manufacturers of sugar. It stated the aggrieved party in this matter are millions of consumers who are being grossly overcharged the price of an essential commodity i.e. sugar by a cartel of sugar manufacturers.

It also said that the impugned judgment of the SHC is contrary to the settled principles of law as well as principles of equity and is liable to be set aside by the apex court.

The SHC, apart from declaring the report null and void, had also directed the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to launch a fresh investigation into the matter. The court had directed the FBR, FIA, and NAB to include people ‘who knew the sugar industry’ in their investigation and directed the institutions to carry out a fresh investigation as per law.

“If any government official has misused his powers, it should be investigated,” the SHC had said in its order. It also asked the FBR to investigate the matter according to the country’s tax laws. “The FIA should also ignore the Sugar Inquiry Commission’s report and re-investigate [the increase in prices],” the court had directed in its verdict.