KARACHI: The Sindh High Court was informed on Thursday that the provincial authorities had shut down all wine shops across the province in compliance of an SHC order, prompting the provincial excise and taxation ministry to bemoan that it would suffer a huge revenue loss as a result of the closure.

Additional Advocate General Ghulam Mustafa Mahesar informed Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, who headed a two-judge bench, that the inspector general of police, Sindh, had issued directives to the DIGs, SSPs and SHOs of the police stations across the province for ensuring strict implementation of the court’s order.

The court was hearing a set of petitions seeking cancellation of the licences of the liquor shops being operated in Muslim-majority areas.

Earlier in the day during the hearing the court ordered the provincial authorities, including police and excise department, to immediate close down all wine shops across the province and inform it about the compliance of its order by 1pm.

The senior law officer of the provincial government appeared before the chief justice in his chamber and verbally informed the bench members that two policemen would be posted at each wine shop till the legal formalities for cancellation of its licence were completed.

The court was further told that the excise and taxation department’s director general, Muhammad Shoib Ahmed Siddiqui, had issued a notification directing the regional directors to ensure the closure of all the liquor shops in Sindh. They were further advised to ensure the fulfilment of all legal formalities before their closure.

Earlier, at the outset of the hearing, religious figures from the Hindu, Christian and Sikh communities appeared before the bench and told the judges that this was false that their religions allowed consumption of liquor on special occasions. They stated that there was a bar on the consumption of liquor in their religions.

The chief justice asked the officials present in the court that under what law wine shops were allowed to operate throughout the year if no religion permitted its consumption.

He observed that licences of wine shops were issued in violation of the laws.

The bench directed the provincial authorities to ensure closure of all the wine shops across the province and submit a compliance report later in the day.

The high court had earlier directed the excise and taxation department’s director general to initiate the process of revoking liquor licences granted in violation of the Prohibition (Enforcement of Hadd) Order 1979.

The bench questioned the grant of liquor licences and observed that as per Article 17 of the Prohibition (Enforcement of Hadd) Order 1979, the licences might be issued for manufacture, import, or sale of liquor on the ground that such liquor was required for consumption by non-Muslim citizen of Pakistan as a part of a religious ceremony.

Nadra submitted a report showing the details of the minorities’ population in the city. According to the report, 2,809 Christians and 2,572 Hindus live in Central district, 69,820 Christians and 13,356 Hindus in East, 16,329 Christians and 8,877 Hindus in Malir, 57,568 Christians and 43,143 Hindus in South, 24,406 Christians and 4,422 Hindus in West.

The excise and taxation department submitted that there were 120 liquor shops across the province. Of them shops, 59 were in Karachi — 11 in the city’s DHA and Clifton areas.

Impleading the home secretary, excise DG and Lucky Traders as respondents, petitioner Muhammad Zafar Mavia had submitted that the excise and taxation department had issued a licence for a liquor shop in a Korangi locality.

However, he said, it was shifted to North Karachi’s Sector H, which is a Muslim-majority area.

The petitioner said the open sale of liquor would cause public nuisance as the majority of the people living in the locality were Muslims.

He asked the court to order cancellation of the licence of the liquor shop.

Govt reaction

The Sindh excise and taxation ministry on Thursday said it would devise its future course of action after it got a copy of the Sindh High Court judgement ordering closure of all wine shops across the province, officials said.

“I have not yet got a copy of the Sindh High Court’s judgment,” said Mukesh Kumar Chawla, provincial minister for excise and taxation, while speaking to Dawn. “Once, we go through the judgement and got it vetted through our law department, we’ll decide whether to challenge the verdict in the superior court.”

He said his ministry had already ordered and got closed all the wine shops in Sindh.

Earlier, Mr Chawla also called on Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah to discuss the legal ramifications of the court verdict.

The closure of 120 shops across the province means a big financial loss to the Sindh government’s exchequer.

“The wine trade related revenues fetch us Rs4.5 billion,” said Mr Chawla.

Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2016

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