Time to declare war on sugar!
Shakir Lakhani

The sugar industry in Pakistan (most of which is controlled by politicians sitting in our assemblies) is perhaps the biggest drain on the country’s economy. Despite running on losses, the sugar barons manage to have lavish lifestyles and get elected to parliament, where they exercise their powers to get loans written off. Surely in these times of crisis, when the country is struggling for survival, the time has come to make the sugar mafia contribute (however slightly) to the national exchequer. In fact, I wouldn’t be wrong in saying that we should immediately declare a war on them, considering that they have accumulated wealth beyond belief due to government policies supporting them.
To begin with, don’t forget that sugar is responsible for almost all the diseases which we suffer from. From diabetes to heart attacks to glaucoma, those who consume man-made sugar are liable to die much earlier than those who don’t. Pakistan’s per capita consumption of sugar is very high, higher even than India’s. A sugar-heavy diet is linked to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, poor dental health, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity.
Yet our government subsidises sugar mills by adopting a number of measures such as guaranteed minimum prices for sugarcane, sugar protectionist import tariff of 40 percent, subsidised transport costs and domestic freight, reduced export taxes, and export quotas. These measures have contributed to maintaining sugar prices on the domestic market, which are higher than the international ones. In fact, the government and the public can benefit if we consume imported sugar, which is actually cheaper than the locally manufactured sugar, rather than help the sugar mafia get richer. But since sugar barons are so influential, no government dares risk offending them.
To get an idea of how much sugar barons are pampered, just consider that they have to pay practically nothing for the water they use. Pakistan’s sugar industry is the most inefficient in the world, using 7,000 liters of water to produce one kilogram of sugar compared to 2,000 liters per one kilogram of sugar in other countries. Even if we assume 5,000 liters of water are used for one kilogram of sugar and five million tons of the white stuff is produced every year (instead of six million tons this year), sugar mills consume an obscene 25 trillion liters of water a year. This is equivalent to the storage capacity of three Tarbela dams! Rather than investing in mega dams, should we not instead force sugar producers to halt this immense wastage of water?
So the first thing the government should do is to give incentives to sugar cane growers to switch over to crops which do not consume so much water (like rice and wheat). Secondly, a defense surcharge of Rs. 20 per kilo should be levied on sugar. Of course, no one should resist, as this tax (which will yield at least a hundred billion rupees annually) will be used for the protection of the country. If there is opposition to this move from sugar mill owners, it can be recovered from retailers. And to the common man, it will mean an extra expenditure of a maximum of only Rs. 500 per year (as the per capita consumption of sugar in the country is 25 kilos per year).
The writer is an engineer, a former visiting lecturer at NED Engineering College, an industrialist
Published in Daily Times, February 26th 2019.