LAHORE: The Punjab Assembly on Wednesday saw a heated debate on issuance of liquor permits in the name of non-Muslims as minority lawmakers demanded doing away with the system that, they said, was blemishing their community.

“All divine books, including the Holy Quran and Bible, declare drinking liquor as illegitimate. But the bureaucracy is issuing liquor permits in the name of non-Muslims and thus staining them,” opposition PML-N chief whip Khalil Tahir Sindhu said, seeking cancellation of all such permits.

His views were endorsed by Tariq Masih Gill and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf legislator Habkook Rafiq Babbu, who argued they would have no objection if the word ‘non-Muslim’ was removed from the permits.

Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Raja Basharat said non-Muslim did not mean Christians only as the liquor permits were also issued for the consumption of foreigners.

Mr Sindhu asked if the liquor tax was part of the remuneration paid to the lawmakers, making their income unlawful.

Raja Basharat said the federal government was being led by the PML-N and was collecting the liquor tax, making unlawful earnings [for the government] and they should first condemn the federal government.

At this, all PML-N MPAs stood up and demanded conducting liquor test of the minister to ascertain he was sober.

Mr Sindhu and Mr Gill approached the speaker’s dais, demanding a liquor test of all the members, beginning from them. Mr Babbu said: “We’ll have no objection if the words of non-Muslim are removed from the liquor permit.”

Speaker Sibtain Khan, however, said the government could not ask for such a medical test.

Regretting that permit issue was raised each time the questions related to the excise department were taken up, Raja Basharat challenged the minority lawmakers to bring a bill on a private members day for resolving the matter for ever, predicting that their community would not stand it.

Accepting the challenge, Mr Sindhu announced introducing a bill to the effect.

Returning to the business, the house again passed the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women (Amendment) Bill 2020 as the governor had returned the bill without signing.

It also adopted a unanimous resolution, demanding provision of wheat seed free of cost and subsidised fertilisers to the farmers to counter the threat of food shortage because of damage caused to standing crops and lands by the recent floods. The resolution was tabled by treasury member Taimur Ali Lali.

Later, the chair adjourned the proceedings for Oct 7.

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2022

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