Pakistan is one of the leading sugar producing countryin the world with annual sugar production of 8,500,000 tons against consumption of 4,500,000 tons.However, several unusual factors force the government to import this commodity from abroad or problems prop up in the adjustment of its prices with new sugarcane crop every year.In this context, stern directives of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to the divisional commissioners and district coordination officers to ensure the procurement of sugarcane by sugar mills should not be seen as unusual. It is good to protect the interests of sugarcane growers by procurement of sugarcane at fixed rates and the sugar millsshould not stop the purchasing processat any cost.The chief minister has ordered stern action against the sugar mills which fail to purchase sugarcane from farmers at fixed rates.It was also observed in the past that sugar mills refused to receive sugarcane and this precious crop perished outside the sugar mills, causing billions of rupees loss to the growers.
On another note,Qurban Ali Shah, the chairman of Sugarcane Growers Association, has expressed dismay over the role of the Trading Corporation of Pakistan (TCP)for ignoring the rights of consumers. He claims that the TCP facilitates sugar mills owners, who are mostly politicians, and that the officials never dare challenge the cartel of the sugar mill owners.
The factual situation is that despite producing the double quantity of sugar than the consumption, the sugar prices have never been rationalised. During the previous PML-N government, Pakistan had imported sugar from India despite having bumper crop of sugarcane in the country. At one occasion, it also happened that subsidies were offered on sugar export, but then the government had to import this commodity back due to shortage of stock in the country.
The TCP gets a hefty amount annually to ensure proper functioning of stock and price mechanism of consumer items in the market, but the people are often deprived of the government incentives. No doubt the TCP officials would have tried their best to maintain prices of consumer items within the reach of the people, but reforms and improvement in institutional capacity are necessary components to ensure transparency in the purchase and sale of items at the government rates.
There is a need to develop coordination between various government departments as well as private organisations to fully ensure the protection of the consumers’ rights. The governments in other countries encourage dcartelisation, especially of the business entities which deal in consumer goods. In Pakistan, one way or the other, it is hard to breaka set routine. Sugar is a daily use item its price should be fixed by taking all the stakeholders into confidence.