HIGHLY disturbing reports have appeared in the press that the sugar mafia in the province is causing an artificial shortage of the commodity and frustrating the efforts of the Punjab government to ensure its uninterrupted supply to the market. Lamentably, the mafia is not releasing the stock – 40,000 tons lying in storehouses – to the markets for the simple reason of jacking up the prices. While the stock of sugar in the government-run utility stores has almost diminished, the customers have been forced to buy it at exorbitant rates in the open market. Had this stored sugar been available in the market, the prices would have come down.It is time the Punjab government stood up to these powerful sugar barons, who are fleecing the nation in broad daylight. Justice demands that any mafia or cartel for that matter, however influential, must be brought to book. There is no doubt that the sugar mafia, as pointed out by former Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin, has its presence even in the National Assembly, and is therefore a force to reckon with. However they are not above the law. Mr Tarin, who at least mustered up the courage to denounce the sugar mill owners publicly, is no more a part of the set-up, and broadly speaking with corruption becoming the order of the day, reining in such notorious mafias now does not appear to be an easy task. Hopefully, Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif, who has vowed to ensure supremacy of the rule of law, would try to tackle the crisis that has gotten worse in the province.
The sugar crisis can no doubt be taken as an acid test of the government’s priorities to value the welfare of the people over powerful hoarders and black marketeers. It must not be forgotten that the shortage of sugar, which is meant to raise the commodity’s price, is also fuelling overall inflation and hurting the economy. A cartel is taking the entire public for a ride and indirectly challenging the writ of the state and hence must be punished – Nation