The decision has been made on emotional grounds rather than research, claimed Isphanyar Bhandara, chief executive of Murree Brewery — the main supplier of Sindh’s wine shops — when asked to comment on the court decision to close down liquor shops.
However, the chief of the country’s oldest and largest brewery and PML-N lawmaker, told The Express Tribune that recently wine shops had begun to crop up in Muslim-majority areas of Sindh with the same frequency as ‘paan shops or cold drink stores’, hinting at government laxity.
Party’s over: Sindh goes dry
Explaining the consequences of the court decision, Bhandara said the closure of wine shops will encourage smuggling, boot-legging and use of injurious home-made liquour. “Ours is the highest tax paying brewery,” he said, adding that the move will cost Sindh and Punjab billions in revenue. He stated that it is the right of minorities to engage in this business and that “someone will challenge this decision [soon].”
An insider of the industry, requesting anonymity, questioned the regular appointment of non-Muslims involved in the liquor business as excise ministers, saying, “They [ministers] vie to increase the number of wine shops to boost profits and ‘repay’ those that appoint them.”
The Sindh High Court decision to revoke all wine shop licences across the province was met with gloom from consumers who fear the move will only lead to high prices as liquour sales in the black market will spike. Health concerns have also been raised as curtailment of easy access to liquour is likely to boost the use of moonshine, especially among those who cannot afford smuggled alcohol.
Close all liquor shops across Sindh today, SHC directs IG
The excise minister, talking to The Express Tribune, revealed that his department generates around Rs4.5 billion annually from the 120 wine shops operating in the province. “This amount is generated through excise duty and annual license renewal fee,” he explained.
The move also affects hotels [with bars] in Karachi as they are supplied liquour from wine shops.
A senior official in the excise and taxation department, requesting anonymity, said that the government is already contemplating to get a stay order or challenge the decision in the apex court. “Huge revenue is generated [from the liquour business], which will be a great loss to the government,” said the official.
The court decision also did not go well with owners of wine shops who said the move will lead to a rise in the use of spurious liquour- known as ‘koopi’ or ‘tharra’.
Pardeep Kumar, who operates a wine shop in Mirpurkhas, believes it will not be possible for the government to stop the sale of liquor. “I just want to know what action the government has taken against the use of heroin and hashish, which are banned,” he said, adding that with this decision, only the smuggling of alcohol will be promoted as the “drinkers will continue to drink.”
Business SOPs: Court demands details of liquor wholesalers
Meanwhile, Hindu lawmakers have welcomed the decision. The parliamentary leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional in the Sindh Assembly, Nand Kumar, said the use of alcohol is not allowed in their religion as well. “I request the government to keep an eye on the use of spurious liquour, which runs under the supervision of excise officials and police,” he claimed. Pitamber Sewani, a former PPP MPA, was of the view that no merit is followed in doling out wine shop licences as only the influential can acquire them. “Ministers’ top priority is to get licences of wine shops,” he claimed, alleging that a former provincial excise minister has now established a liquour factory in the suburban areas of Karachi.
Action across province
In Hyderabad, the excise and police personnel had sealed all the ten wine shops by the afternoon in light of court orders. An owner of a wine shop in the City taluka, who requested anonymity, said his shop was sealed with the existing stock still inside.
“Although we respect the court and are complying with the order, one wonders what good will come from closing the shops when the liquour factories will continue operating,” he observed.
A regular liquour consumer, who requested anonymity owing to the social stigma and legal bar on Muslims related to alcohol consumption, expressed skepticism over the complete implementation of the order. “Now we will get less for more [money],” he quipped.
Several policemen who spoke to The Express Tribune said enforcing a ban on moonshine has eluded the force despite the tragic incidents caused by it.
“After 55 people died from consuming moonshine in Tando Muhammad Khan earlier [in March] this year, the IG had announced uncompromising action against manufacturers and sellers. But the question is whether that happened? No!” said a police officer, pointing out that only a few days ago Jamshoro police recovered 20,000 litres of moonshine in a single day’s raids.
All the wine shops across Upper Sindh, including those in Sukkur, Rohri, Pano Aqil, Ghotki, Mirpur Mathelo, Daharki, Khairpur, Naushahro Feroze, Larkana, Shikarpur, Jacobabad, Kashmore-Kandhkot and Kamber-Shahdadkot were also sealed by the authorities.
Sindh High Court orders shutdown of liquor shops
In Sukkur, all the six wine shops were sealed by the police, while the excise department was reportedly found absent from the scene. It was observed that at the time of sealing, no excise official was present on site. According to sources, some excise officials had allegedly tipped off wine shop owners ahead of the action due to which they had shifted their stock for its later sale in the black market.
Sukkur SSP Amjad Ahmed Shaikh boasted that since his posting, drastic action was taken against persons involved in the sale of moonshine and now substandard liquour is not available throughout the district. “The IG has also asked us to keep an eye on the sale of moonshine as after the closure of wine shops, addicts will obviously switch to other forms of intoxicants, including moonshine,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 28th, 2016.
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