JAVED MAHMOOD and RAMZAN CHANDIO KARACHI - Unprecedented hike in the prices of the domestic sugar has deprived the consumers of a massive amount of Rs 31 billion in just six months of present calendar year, TheNation learnt. The average retail price of sugar in the country had been raised to a minimum of Rs 43 per kg during the period January-June 2009, as against the price of Rs 24 to 25 per kg during the same last year indicating a minimum surge of Rs 18 per kg, revealed a probe by TheNation. When the government of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) came into power, the per kg price of sugar was around Rs 23 to 25, but it shot up gradually and steadily and hit the highest mark of Rs 45/kg in lower/middle income areas and Rs 47 to 48/kg in posh localities throughout the country. In view of a minimum annual consumption of 3.5 million tons, the monthly consumption of sugar stands around 291,666 tons. From January to June 2009, the sugar millers and dealers have earned a minimum of additional amount of Rs 5 billion to 5.50 billion each month through the hike in sugar prices. Interestingly, the sugar prices have surged well beyond the international prices in the domestic market. Last year, the international sugar prices remained below Rs20/kg, but in the country the retail prices inflated to Rs 40/kg by December 2008. These days the international price of white refined sugar is in the range of 380-420 dollars per ton that amounts to Rs 30 to Rs 34 per kg, excluding taxes and customs duty. Another point needing attention is that last year the domestic production of sugar was surplus, at 4.5 million tons against the annual requirement of less than 4 million tons, but despite this the ex-mill and retail prices hit the unprecedented mark after the formation of the PPP government. According to information gathered from the stakeholders concerned, when PPP came into power in March 2008, the retail price of sugar was Rs 25 per kg, while during one year plus period it climbed up to Rs 46 per kg. Even during the caretaker government, led by former president Pervez Musharraf, in January 2008 the retail price of sugar was Rs 23/kg and no such increase in the white sweeteners price was witnessed till the arrival of the PPP government. According to the retailers market association Karachi, the retail price of sugar was Rs25/kg in March 2008, the very month the PPP came into power. And it remained the same till April 2008, before jumping to Rs 32 per kg in May 2008, a member of retailers market association Karachi recalled, adding that the price was further raised to Rs 40 in October 2008. Meanwhile, Abdul Majeed Nizamani, President Sindh Abadgar Board, while talking to The Nation said being an agriculture country Pakistan was producing surplus sugar every year. In 2007-08 the total production of the commodity was 4.7 million tons, which was much above the domestic consumption of 4.1 million tons annually. He reminded that before starting crushing season of FY 2008-09 in July last year, Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA) had conveyed that at least 1.2 million tons surplus sugar stocks were available with them and they requested the government to delay the crushing season. He questioned the decision of government to import sugar and demanded that the government should held the sugar mills owners accountable who earlier indicated surplus stocks of the essential commodity. Keeping in view last years surplus stocks of sugar, the production of current season crop was 3.5 million tons, which was sufficient to fulfil the needs of the country in ongoing year, he maintained. Meanwhile, the analysts are holding the hoarders and profiteers mafia responsible for sky rocketing increase in sugar price in the country. Taking benefit of surplus stocks of sugar, the hoarders and profiteers smuggled the commodity through Afghan route, which resulted in price hike, analysts said, claiming that a powerful lobby of sugar millers, enjoying had strong connection in power corridors, was also involved in the scandalous practice. According to an analyst, the majority of sugar mills owners are politicians - the industrialists who directly or indirectly have strong connection with the decision makers. He said, At least five sugar mills - Sakrand, Ansari, Pangrio, Mirza and Dadu belong to those mighty PPP leaders who are very close to President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari.