LAHORE  -   While granting bail to former chief minister Shehbhaz Sharif in the Ramzan Sugar Mills sullage carrier case, a division bench of the Lahore High Court has protected the development schemes, which were executed through proper channel and in accordance with the law.

At the bail stage, the bench of the Lahore High Court did not dig deep into this case. However, it will go deep into the case at the trial stage. The court has however taken note of the facts of the case to clear the former chief minister of the allegations that he misused his powers to approve the Rs260 million drainage scheme, allegedly to benefit the Ramzan Sugar Mills in Chiniot owned by his son Hamza Shehbhaz Sharif.

The court in detailed judgement gave due respect to all politicians except the corrupt ones and protected what is allowed to them to perform their duties under the law. It also passed stricture on the NAB for taking action against the parliamentarians on presumptions.

The matter is still open to judicial scrutiny at a higher forum, yet the LHC Bench noted that Ramzan Sugar Mills was established in 1990 and the allegations of causing financial loss to the exchequer was related to year 2014. By 2014, it noted, the sugar mills had operated for 24 years and it was not possible for it to operate without an affluent drainage system. It also mentioned the 10-year long dictatorial rule of General Pervez Musharraf to establish that in that era the case could have been framed had there been any substance. It was also noteworthy that the said scheme was one of the many others approved in the same nature by the government in 2014 and their funding was also duly approved in the budget through the Assembly. The sullage carrier scheme in question was sought to be implemented by the MPA concerned and on this request the same was made part of the development schemes, the court observed.

The court noted that the NAB did not raise objection to any other scheme except the one in question. It noted the NAB raised objection to the scheme in question merely on the ground that the sugar mills of the petitioner’s son falls on the way. Addressing the NAB objection that the said sullage carrier was presumed to benefit the Ramzan Sugar Mills and not the public at large, the court noted that “if the above reason of the NAB is allowed to prevail then it will amount to give a licence and unfettered/unlimited powers to the NAB to file a reference against any member of the parliament on the execution of any development scheme etc. in his area, on the ground that the said scheme was actually executed by the said member of the parliament for his own benefit instead of the local population because his house/property of his any relative or house/property of any his friend (supporter) is situated near or around the development scheme executed in his area”.

The court observed that this situation will “create chaos in the country and member of the parliament shall not be able to carry out any development work in their constituency and if they do so, they will remain under constant threat of the NAB, who may file a reference on the basis of above ground/allegations”.

The court gave due respect to the parliamentarians, rising above their party affiliation except those “who are virtually involved in corruption and corrupt practice or in any other crime”.

The court held that Parliamentarians “are true representatives of the great Pakistani nation”. The court said its liking for politicians is natural for the reason that Pakistan was also founded by the politicians. “We cannot therefore leave the members of the parliament at the mercy of the NAB…. At the same time we do not say that the NAB should not proceed against any member of the parliament or politician if he is involved in corruption or corrupt practice but our concern is that it should not reflect from the case that any individual has been victimized by the NAB”. The court laid stress on evidence, material with the NAB for taking action and that action should be not be based on “speculations and imaginations”.

About the said sullage carrier, the court observed that it was part of the government scheme that provided benefit to others as well and as such it could not be called one related to the petitioner or his son who, it added, had been paying rent to the government for using the sullage carrier. The court also noted the fact that Maulana Muhammad Rahmat Ullah, the ex-MPA on whose request the scheme was approved, was made prosecution witness instead of an accused by the NAB. The court found the NAB doing “pick and choose” and treating the petitioner discriminately. It also found that no allegation of illegal use of funds stood against the petitioner or that he had received any kickbacks for the scheme in question. The court held that bail could be granted on extreme illness or several years’ imprisonment of the accused when the trial has not begun. It said if from the tentative assessment of the evidence, a court concludes that the charges of the prosecution are not sufficiently supported by evidence/material, bail can be allowed. It substantiated this point on various cases and admitted the petitioner to bail viewing that case against him needed further inquiry.