ISLAMABAD: Owners of some wine shops in Sindh on Monday filed a joint petition in the Supreme Court, requesting it to set aside the Oct 27 order of the Sindh High Court shutting down all liquor shops in the province.

The petitioners pleaded to be allowed to continue their business till their petition was pending in the apex court.

They said they were law-abiding citizens and paid duties amounting to Rs3 billion in 2015.

The petition was moved by rights activist Asma Jahangir on behalf of Kohistan Wine Shop Karachi, Azad Wine Shop Karachi, Mehran Wine Shop Hyderabad, Arjun Wine Agency Mirpurkhas, Mazda Trading Karachi, Master Wine Shop Sukkur, Sindh Wine Shop Nawabshah and Lucky and Company Karachi.

On Oct 18, the high court had ordered the authorities concerned to initiate the process of recalling licences granted to liquor shops in violation of the Prohibition (Enforcement of Hadd) Order, 1979.

The order came with an observation that no provision under Article 17 of the order created legal authority for granting general licence to liquor shops to operate throughout the year as non-Muslims could only be provided liquor at their religious ceremonies for which request in advance had to be made.

The petition said that the high court had arbitrarily taken the decision and without examining the sale records of wine shops it had concluded that the liquor was being sold in violation of Article 17 of the Prohibition Order, 1979. The petitioners said there was not a single complaint against them.

The petitioners highlighted that no material was available with the excise department regarding religious festivals of non-Muslims at which consumption of alcohol was permissible.

Moreover, the high court did not seek the views of all religious minorities living in Sindh like the Parsi community, the petition said.

It said alcohol factories and stores were operative all over the country, including the Islamabad Capital Territory, Balochistan and Punjab.

The livelihood of people associated with wine shops was at stake as a result of the high court order, it said, adding that over 24,000 people were working in the alcohol retail business in Sindh alone.

The petitioners said they could lose their livelihood and face grave financial difficulties as a result of the high court order.

They regretted that they had been issued show-cause notices without providing an opportunity to be heard or to make alternative business plan. They said they were not acting in any illegal manner.

The high court had failed to correctly interpret its jurisdiction under Article 199 of the Constitution whereby it was not empowered to assume suo motu jurisdiction in exercise of its powers and, thus, it went beyond the prayer made in a petition against wine shops before it, the petitioners said.

The petition said the high court had also overlooked the fact that an alternative remedy was available to the petitioner before approaching it.

It said the petitioner could move a reference with the relevant authority under the Prohibition Order, 1979, for any violation of the terms and conditions of holding a licence under articles 17 and 18 of the law.

Published in Dawn, November 15th, 2016

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