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ISLAMABAD: The top court has ordered the Sindh High Court (SHC) and the Islamabad High Court (IHC) to decide the petitions of the Sugar Mills Association against the Inquiry Commission report within three weeks, and during this period "no unnecessary coercive action" may be taken against them. A three-member bench, headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, on Tuesday heard the federal government's appeal against the SHC order to grant stay against the Inquiry Commission report. The apex court recalled the SHC interim order.

Attorney General for Pakistan Khalid Jawed Khan, representing the federation, contended that the interim order passed by the SHC was contrary to well-settled principles of the law.

The SHC has no jurisdiction to stop any inquiry or investigation conducted in a lawful manner.

The Commission of Inquiry was lawfully constituted and its report is only on "fact finding" along with certain recommendations in the public interest for the consideration of the federal government.

"No direct adverse action was taken or penalty imposed against any party on the basis of the inquiry report without proceeding further under the law," the AGP said.

The court observed that the sugar mills' owners had alleged biasness in the Inquiry Commission Report and contended that it was not properly constituted.

The chief justice said the factual controversy in the case was "bias".

The court declined the AGP's request that the case should be heard on merits by the Supreme Court itself. Makhdoom Ali Khan, the counsel for the sugar mills, said let the high courts first decide the matter as the Supreme Court can benefit from the judgments of the high courts. Justice Ijaz said the government's system could not be jammed.

The report does not hurt any individual. He said if the respondents find the actions of the functionaries "unreasonable", then they could approach the apex court.

The AGP contended that it was not a private dispute, "but it was a matter of interest of the public as the sugar prices were increased".

He added: "public will suffer if the interim order is not set aside. Why there should be a privileged position for 25 sugar mills"?

Makhdoom Ali Khan told the court that Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA) and 17 others had also filed a writ petition in the IHC against the same inquiry commission's report on 21 May 2020.

The petitions were disposed of by the IHC vide a short order on 20 June 2020, while detailed reasons were delivered on 13 July 2020.

The counsel for the sugar mills also told the bench that an Intra-Court Appeal had been filed in the IHC against the single bench's judgment. During the course of hearing, both the petitioner and the respondents' counsel agreed that the matter may be decided at the earliest as it was before the IHC and the SHC.

It was the request of the sugar mills that no coercive measures be taken against them. They further requested the bench that the 'media trial' of the PSMA is required to be stopped.

The AGP said that no official of the government would say anything against the PSMA and that no coercive measures would be taken but the authorities could proceed against the respondents strictly in accordance with the law.

The federation submitted before the apex court that the SHC could not grant injunction unless the three ingredients stipulated under Order 39 Rule 1 and 2, CPC, 1908 were fulfilled.

"The petition filed in the SHC being premature as filed only under apprehension of adverse action in the future is not maintainable. The petition filed by the sugar mills (respondent) in the SHC being motivated by ulterior consideration of stifling lawful proceedings by different statutory bodies/authorities under different statutes is liable to be dismissed by the apex court, contended the federation. The inquiry report was being sent to different statutory authorities including the FBR, the SECP, the NAB, the CCP, the FIA etc to examine the facts, and if in their opinion, it disclosed any violation of the law under which the respective authority was functioning, then action be taken strictly in accordance with that law," he added.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020