ISLAMABAD - The federal government Thursday approached the Supreme Court of Pakistan against the Sindh High Court (SHC) verdict on a petition of sugar mills owners in response to the report of Sugar Inquiry Commission (SIC).

The federation moved the appeal through Attorney General for Pakistan Khalid Jawed Khan praying to the apex court to suspend the SHC judgment. It said that the SHC upheld the Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA) contention purely on technical grounds that the summary for constituting the Commission was initiated by Interior rather than Cabinet Division and that the notifications were belatedly published in the official gazette.

It was August 17 when the SHC had quashed the fact-finding report and the notifications constituting the Commission of Inquiry.

In its appeal, the federation adopted that the SHC grossly erred in law and facts and based the impugned judgment on completely unjustified assumption that the aggrieved party in the case was the group of manufacturers of sugar.

It contended that the aggrieved party, in this matter, was millions of consumers who were being grossly overcharged for an essential commodity i.e. sugar, by a cartel of sugar manufacturers. The public at large also suffered billions of rupees in evaded taxes owing to under-reporting of the actual production by the manufacturers, the appeal said.

The appeal stated that in order to redress the public grievances, the federal government constituted the inquiry commission under Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act, 2017, to unravel the true facts and expose the inner working of this industry.

 It mentioned that the commission carried out an in depth probe and on 21-05-20, the commission delivered its detailed fact-finding report. The commission was neither authorized, nor did it take any adverse action against any respondent. The inquiry commission merely submitted its finding of facts and also made recommendations for reforms of regulating authorities.

The Sugar Mills, however, filed a writ petition in Islamabad High Court (IHC) against the notifications dated 16-03-20 and 25-03-20 and the report of the Inquiry Commission dated 21-05-20. The IHC dismissed the petition on 20-06-20.

The PSMA thereafter filed a writ petition before the Sindh High Court (SHC), which passed an interim order. The federal government approached the Supreme Court against that order. However, the apex court had disposed of the matter on 14-07-20. A Division Bench of SHC on 18-08-20 passed judgment.

The federation submitted that the initiation of summary by the Interior Division instead of Cabinet Division for appointment of the Inquiry Commission and belated publication of the notifications dated 16-03-20 and 25-03-20 in the official gazette was an ‘innocent mistake’. However, it did not cause harm or prejudice to the respondents or any other party.

It also submitted that there was substantial compliance with the requirements of the statutes and neither the notifications nor the report of Inquiry Commission could be quashed or set aside by the Sindh High Court on mere technicality causing no harm or prejudice to the respondents.

It continued that the SHC judgment made observations about the appointment and role of Advisor/SAPM [Shehzad Mirza] despite the fact that this was neither the issue directly nor argued in detail before the court. The federation maintained that the impugned judgment of the SHC was contrary to the settled principles of law as well as principles of equity and was liable to be set aside by the apex court.

 It said that the subsequent addition of a member in the Commission after the approval by the Cabinet through notification dated 25-03-20 did not violate the provision of Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act, 2017.

The appeal said that the commission report was merely a fact-finding exercise and could not be set aside on the basis of apprehension of the respondents against whom no final determination of rights or liabilities had been made in the report, nor any action was taken as such.

It adopted that the exercise undertaken by the commission could not be aborted or stopped on the assumption that the reputation of the respondents might be adversely affected. The remedy for damage to the reputation, if any, could lie in a suit but not in writ jurisdiction nor any finding on disputed facts could be given in writ jurisdiction.

It added that the federal government or its functionaries were under obligation to act in public interest and probe all the cases and to promptly follow up the proceedings before departments, authorities or bodies as it directly affected the fundamental rights of the people at large.