LAHORE – The Lahore High Court on Wednesday ordered action against those sugar mills who are not going to start crushing till Friday.

Justice Sajid Mehmood Sethi issued direction on a petition moved by Jamat-i-Islami Lahore chapter head Mian Maqsood Ahmad.

The High Court order came after a day Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif issued warning to sugar mills to start crushing till Wednesday (yesterday) or be ready to face the action. The Punjab CM had issued the same kind of warning to powerful owners of sugar mills (mostly politicians) last year over the payment issue as they owed millions of rupees of the sugarcane growers. However, his warning went useless and farmers in many areas are still waiting for the payment of their previous years’ crops.

It is being said that three out of 40 sugar mills of Punjab has yet to start crushing. Thousands of acres crop sown in the areas is feared to be destroyed due to closure of mills, causing million of rupees loss to farmers and delay in sowing of wheat crop.

Sugar factories in Punjab are legally bound to start crushing in first week of November. Much delay in start of crushing this year caused miles long queues of trolleys in areas where a sugar mills located. It took more than a week to a trolley to reach from field to the spot where its weight is recorded.

Agri Forum Pakistan vice-president Rao Akhtar said that out of total 16 sugar mills of South Punjab, 13 were operation and rest three closed on court order.

The real issue, he informed, was that the farmers were not being paid the notified rate (Rs180 per 40 kg) by sugar mills owners.

Sugar factories either verbally tell growers or issue a receipt that they would pay Rs130-140 per 40kg instead of the notified rate and take back CPR (cane price receipt) from a farmer when he drops sugarcane at factory, he added.

Under the CPR, each sugar factory mentions the weight and rate of sugar cane bought as well as the date when it is supplied to the sugar mill concerned.

 “Sugar millers are completely violating the notification of official rates,” he said, and added that sugar cane producers couldn’t withhold their crop now.

Yesterday’s direction from the LHC is expected to bring much relief to the farmers where sugar mills are closed. Previously, Justice Shujat Ali Khan refused hearing of the matter for personal reasons and sent it to fix it before any other bench.

Punjab Cane Commissioner Sanaullah was also present in the court who told the court that the mills’ owners had not started crushing despite issuance of show-cause notices.

At this, Justice Sethi directed the commissioner to proceed against the owners who keep their mill closed till Dec 22 and submit report in the court. The judge also sought report on the price for 40 kg sugarcane.

Mian Maqsood Ahmad had submitted that the government had stopped crushing of the sugar mills during the present season. He said sugar mills started crushing every year in October but unfortunately these mills had not been functioning for last two years. The petitioner stated that the closure of crushing had been causing great loss to the farmers. He said the loss in South Punjab had crossed the loss of over 40 billion rupees.  

If the crop of sugar cane was not crushed on time, he said, then there would be huge loss not only for the farmers but for the general public which could fail to get sugar timely.  He asked the court to order the government authorities to make sure the start of crushing by every mill.