ISLAMABAD           -       The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday extended its stay order for one day in a petition of the Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA) filed against the report of Sugar Inquiry Commission (SIC). 

A single bench of IHC comprising Chief Justice of IHC Justice AtharMinallah extended the stay orders while hearing PSMA petition challenging the report of Sugar Inquiry Commission and deferred the hearing till Saturday (today). Previously, the IHC bench had barred the federal government from taking any action against PSMA for 10 days in light of the recommendations of a report of the SIC. During the hearing, Sugar Mills Owners’ lawyer Makhdoom Ali Khan and Attorney General of Pakistan Khalid Javed Khan appeared before the court. 

Justice Athar remarked that the federal government had constituted a fact finding commission then how it was affecting sugar mills. He also said that the inquiry report was not a decision rather it was just a fact finding report which was not binding for the investigation departments. He added that all the institutions would hear all the concerned people for the fair trial. 

Makhdoom Ali Khan said that the self-esteem of the sugar industry was being damaged through media trial. The IHC Chief Justice said in his remarks that it is not appropriate to hold press conference on every matter and affirmed that let the law take its course. 

The petitioner’s counsel further said in his arguments that it must be examined whether the commission worked with an intention to draw some specific conclusion beforehand. 

The IHC bench observed that the federal government was authorised to send the matter to National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in accordance with the law. Justice Athar remarked that how the sugar mills association considered the whole practice as unfair. 

He further observed that all the relevant departments were free in their investigation and would decide after hearing all stakeholders in this matter. 

SulemanAkram Raja pleaded before court that the report had alleged the sugar mills as sugar holders and mafia. He said that how a fair investigation could be ensured after leveling these allegations against his clients. 

The attorney general told the court that members of Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), Security Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA)’s were included in inquiry commission due to having relevant expertise. 

Makhdoom Ali Khan argued that the report was prepared to please the government. Prime Minister and all his aides are calling them mafia. He termed all this exercise as biased.  

The counsel for the Association contended that the notification, dated 16.03.2020, is ultra vires the Act of 2017 and an encroachment on the powers of the legislature and respective provincial executive authorities. 

He added that the selection of manufacturers for the purposes of forensic audit was arbitrary and discriminatory and the object of the inquiry was to investigate reasons for increase of sugar prices and this crucial aspect was ignored. The petitioners maintained that the inquiry commission exceeded its mandate and the recommendations of the inquiry commission and its proceedings are not in consonance with the Act of 2017. 

In its petition, the association cited federation through Secretary Cabinet Division, Secretary Interior, Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Shahzad Akbar Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Accountability, Wajid Zia Director General (DG) FIA and others as respondents. 

The petitioners stated in the petition that they seek the protection of this court against the entirely unlawful and unwarranted campaign of vilification and demonisation launched against them in complete denial of the right to due process guaranteed to them by the Constitution. 

They adopted, “An inquiry report that travels beyond its constitutional and statutory scope and purports to render decisive findings prior to the initiation of proceedings by the legally designated executive authorities and determination by the appropriate judicial fora is liable to be set aside by this honourable court.” 

Their petition said that a report titled “Report of the Commission of Inquiry Constituted by Ministry of Interior to Probe into the Increase in Sugar Prices” was released on May 21 while the said report was prepared by the Sugar Inquiry Commission (SIC) constituted on March 16 through a notification of Ministry of Interior. 

They argued: “The scope of the Impugned Report clearly exceeds the constitutional mandate and limitation of a Federal Commission of Inquiry constituted under the 2017 Act, as it trespasses into matters within the exclusive legislative and executive domains of the Provinces.” 

“The entire inquiry has been carried out in a completely illegal, unlawful, opaque, biased and discriminatory manner. It has been conducted in complete contravention to the requirements of the 2017 Act and the relevant terms of reference,” pointed the petition. 

Therefore, the PSMA and other petitioners prayed to the court to declare the notification of Interior Ministry of March 16 to constitute Sugar Inquiry Commission and all subsequent and consequent actions of the respondents including but not limited to the impugned report of May 21, the impugned Action Matrix of Respondent No 4 (Shahzad Akbar) and the impugned Prime Minister’s decision of June 7 and the other actions of the government officials as ultra vires the Act, unconstitutional, and malicious and may be pleased to quash the same. 

They further requested the court to prohibit the respondents from directly as well as indirectly taking any adverse action or passing any adverse orders or placing any reliance upon or making any reference to or giving any publicity to the impugned report against the petitioners.