Thursday June 20, 2024

SHC censures TCP, Punjab trading agency for mishandling 525,000 tonnes of rice

Court observed that the TCP termed it a “shortage”, whereas the Punjab trading agency claims that a substantial quantity of rice was damaged/decayed

By Jamal Khurshid
May 10, 2024
The Sindh High Court building in Karachi. — SHC Website/File
The Sindh High Court building in Karachi. — SHC Website/File

KARACHI: The Sindh High Court has taken exception to the mishandling of 525,000 tonnes of rice from the 1988-89 crop and observed that Trading Corporation of Pakistan (TCP) and the Punjab trading agency had dealt with the substantial quantity of rice in a negligent and insensitive manner.

The observation came during a hearing of the high court appeal filed by the TCP, formerly the rice export corporation, against the single- judge order in favour of the Punjab trading company with regard to storage of its 525,000 tonnes of rice stock from the 88-89 crops.

A division bench comprising Justice Mohammad Shafi Siddiqui and Justice Omar Sial observed that in the current case neither side has denied destruction/damage to the rice and the rice bags. The court observed that the TCP termed it a “shortage”, whereas the Punjab trading agency claims that a substantial quantity of rice was damaged/decayed.

It said that it is clear that a significant loss to the state exchequer was caused. The judges observed that the TCP and the Punjab trading agency have dealt with substantial quantity of rice in the callous, insensitive and negligent manner.

“The ultimate victim of their respective negligence has undoubtedly been the common man of this country,” the court observed and said it is clear from the record that absolutely no checks and balances were in place and the massive quantity of rice was taken from the custody of one handler Behri and given to the Punjab trading agency without an iota of paperwork.

The SHC said no formal handing over or taking over was recorded and from 1990 to 1995, and both parties did not play a responsible role. It further observed that apart from writing letters to each other, both parties sat and watched the rice and the rice bags deteriorate to unusable levels.

The court observed that a contract between TCP and PTA was executed in January 1990 and since 1995 both parties levelled allegations against each other of negligence, shortage of 46,281 tonnes and lethargy in addressing the issue.

It said the record presented at trial reflects both parties’ lethargy in dealing with their duties and it was primarily the TCP’s obligation to ensure that the rice stock of the country stayed accounted for and safe and secure but it failed to fulfil this duty. The high court observed that due to the considerable wastage and pilferage of rice caused by the conduct of the TCP, the common man was the ultimate victim and nothing but writing letters was done by the TCP.

It said the same was continued with the same contractor for five years despite everything going on. The court observed that neither party sought the assistance of law enforcement agencies or the courts of law to prevent the ongoing loss of the rice stock. “The stock decayed and deteriorated in front of their eyes,” the court observed in its order pointing out that neither the TCP nor the PTA did anything meaningful to stop it except keep writing to each other meaningless letters and giving ultimatums.

The court observed that the mandate of the TCP is essentially to ensure trust for the people of the country and they cannot be allowed to violate that trust easily. It said that approximately 450 cases have involved the TCP in the high court and a substantial number have arisen from similar issues and there has been complete apathy on the part of the TCP.

The court also observed that the TCP shall ensure that its accounting and management systems connected with commodities handling are effective, upgraded, and computerized and better controls for stock safety are implemented.

The court also ordered that officers responsible for fiascos like the one adjudicated in this case are proceeded against appropriately without fear or favour. It said that the ultimate responsibility for loss caused by negligence in handling the stock will be of the members of the Board of Directors and directed the chairman of the TCP to ensure that the order of the court is included in the minutes in the next meeting of its Board of Directors.

The court also held that the terms of the handling contract enhanced the PTA’s liability for the rice stocks, and the blanket indemnity given by the PTA to the TCP would supersede the PTA’s statutory responsibility, thus making them liable for the loss suffered.