ISLAMABAD: The Sup­reme Court issued notices on Thursday to the Sindh government and provincial departments concerned on a petition against the Oct 27 Sindh High Court (SHC) order about cancellation of licences of about 124 wine shops in the province.

A three-judge Supreme Court bench, headed by Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, had almost suspended the high court’s order when, on second thoughts, it simply decided to issue notices to respondents.

Moved by Asma Jahangir on behalf of eight wine shops, the appeal named respondents in the case as director general of Excise and Taxation, Sindh, the ETO of Excise and Taxation, the SSP of District South, Karachi; and SHOs of the Darakhshan and Gizri police stations in Karachi. The joint appeal had requested the Supreme Court to set aside the SHC order and suspend the operation of its judgement till the petition remained pending before the court.

The petition was moved on behalf of the 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.

The petitioners pleaded before the Supreme Court that they were law-abiding citizens of the country and had paid Rs3 billion in duties to the government last year.

They said that on Oct 18, the SHC had ordered the Sindh government and its departments concerned to initiate the process of cancelling the licences of the liquor shops.

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

In their appeal, the liquor shop owners pleaded that the high court had arbitrarily, and without examining the sale records of the wine shops, concluded that liquor was being sold in violation of Article 17 of the Prohibition (Enforcement of Hadd) Order, 1979, particularly when there was not a single complaint against the petitioners. The petitioners said that no material was available with the excise department regarding religious festivals of non-Muslims at which consumption of alcohol was permissible.

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

The petitioners argued that alcohol factories and stores were operating in various parts of Pakistan, including the Islamabad Capital Territory, Balochistan and Punjab, and that livelihood of at least 24,000 people was at stake as they were working in the alcohol retail business in Sindh.

“They are faced with the loss of livelihood and grave and irreparable financial damage has hit the petitioners as a consequence of the SHC order where they are not acting in any illegal manner and show-cause notices have been issued to them without giving them an opportunity to be heard or to make alternative business plans,” the petitioners said.

Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2016

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