Parvez Elahi, President of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), has inadvertently become a benefactor to the Sharif family. This unlikely outcome is the result of legislation passed by the Punjab Assembly during Elahi’s term as provincial chief minister in November 2022. This legislative move has paved the way for the top leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to reactivate three of their sugar mills located in South Punjab.
The story begins in October 2016 when Justice Ayesha Malik, a Lahore High Court judge at the time, issued an order preventing then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother, then Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, from relocating three of their sugar mills to South Punjab. The order came in response to various petitions, including one filed by sugar baron Jahangir Khan Tareen, who was a PTI leader at the time.
These three mills—Ittefaq Sugar Mills, Haseeb Waqas Sugar Mills, and Chaudhry Sugar Mills—had been transferred from North Punjab to Bahawalpur, Muzaffargarh, and Rahim Yar Khan, respectively.
The Sharifs appealed against the Lahore High Court’s decision to the Supreme Court, which in 2018 ordered the immediate relocation of the mills to their original locations while dismissing their appeals.
However, during Parvez Elahi’s tenure as Punjab chief minister, a piece of legislation known as the Punjab Industries (Control on Establishment and Enlargement) Amendment Act, 2022 was passed by the Punjab Provincial Assembly. This law, enacted on November 14, 2022, and approved by the Punjab Governor, not only allowed sugar mills in the province to increase their sugarcane crushing capacity but also legalized their relocation.
Interestingly, when the Supreme Court resumed hearing the review appeals filed by the Sharifs in February of the same year against the 2018 verdict, the caretaker Punjab government, and Jahangir Khan Tareen expressed their desire to withdraw their petitions. This abrupt change of stance irked the three-member bench overseeing the case.
The Punjab Industries and Commerce Department informed the court that the sugar mills’ relocation issue had been resolved following the Punjab Assembly’s legislation.
Now, as Parvez Elahi faces a barrage of legal cases, his rivals are capitalizing on the legislation passed during his tenure by reactivating their sugar mills. Chaudhry Sugar Mills, Haseeb Waqas Sugar Mills, and Ittefaq Sugar Mills are gearing up to commence sugarcane crushing, with their boilers undergoing testing after thorough cleaning and maintenance.
The impact of this development on the region’s agricultural landscape is significant. In 2005, the Punjab government imposed restrictions on sugarcane cultivation in certain districts where cotton was the primary crop. Over the years, cotton production has dwindled from 14 million bales in 2005 to just 5 million bales in 2023, largely due to the proliferation of sugar mills in Southern Punjab. Although cotton cultivation has seen a 70% increase in 2023 compared to the previous year, it remains 65% lower than 2005 levels. Currently, cotton is grown on approximately 900,000 acres in the Rahim Yar Khan district. The resurgence of sugarcane cultivation by these mills is expected to have a substantial impact on cotton and wheat cultivation.
The sugar industry in Pakistan wields considerable power and influence, with the majority of the country’s 91 sugar mills owned by prominent politicians and their families. While internal conflicts have fractured this influential lobby for the past six years, recent political realignments, including the alliance between the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and PML-N, have united the sugar lobby once again.
In this evolving landscape, where political dynamics intersect with economic interests, Parvez Elahi’s inadvertent role as a benefactor to the Sharifs through legislative changes adds a unique twist to the story of Pakistan’s sugar industry.