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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday suspended a Sindh High Court interim order of sealing 120 liquor shops in the province.

The court also wondered how the high court could intervene in a matter when an alternative remedy was already available under the Hadd Order of 1979, which asks for the issuance of licences or regulating the sale of alcohol and even suggests penalties for those violating the law.

A two-judge bench, headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, had taken up appeals moved by different liquor shops of Sindh through right activists Asma Jahangir and senior counsel Shahid Hamid.

In its March 2 order, the SHC had held that 120 shops selling wine and liquor throughout the province were clearly engaged in the illegal sale of wine and liquor without ensuring that it was sold to non-Muslims alone and that too in the prescribed quota. They were operating in complete violation of the prohibition rules, as well as contrary to the injunctions of the Hadd Order 1979, the court held.

High court did not consider alternative remedies available under law, apex court rules

The high court had ordered the director general of excise and taxation to seal all liquor shops throughout the province immediately, whereas the Sindh inspector general of police was asked to ensure compliance with the order.

The high court gave the provincial government a month to evolve a practical, transparent and implementable mechanism, which would ensure that only licensed shops sold wine and liquor to non-Muslims and foreigners in quantities restricted by the permissible quota.

On Monday, Shahid Hamid argued that all 120 liquor shops were sealed on complaints against four liquor shops. He contended that 110 shops were issued licences between 1980 and 1990 and were doing their business in accordance with the law, whereas another 10 were issued licences between 2009 and 2013.

The joint petition was filed by Kohistan Wine Shop, Azad Wine Shop, Mehran Wine Shop, Arjun Wine Agency, Mazda Trading, Master Wine Shop, Sindh Wine Shop, Lucky and Company, Good Luck Wine Shop and Long Mal Wine Shop.

The last time they knocked at the doors of the apex court was on Nov 14, 2016. On Nov 23, the apex court remanded the case back to the SHC to decide the matter after hearing out all aggrieved parties.

The fresh petition before the Supreme Court argued that liquor shops would suffer grave and irreparable financial losses if the high court order was not suspended.

The petition pleaded that the high court failed to notice that in case of a violation of the Prohibition (Enforcement of Hadd) Order, 1979, by Muslims, the most effective and appropriate alternative remedy lay in filing an FIR under Section 3/4 of the Prohibition (Enforcement of Hadd) Order, 1979.

The petition argued that the high court order violated the petitioners’ fundamental rights under Article 10A of the Constitution, since no due process was observed nor was any adequate opportunity of hearing provided to the petitioners.

The high court also erred in concluding that alcohol was being sold by the petitioners in violation of Article 17 of the Prohibition (Enforcement of Hadd) Order, 1979, without even examining their sales records, the petition argued.

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2017