Wine shops on the horns of dilemma

Published: June 16, 2012
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Murree Brewery remains the favourite among buyers as it holds the largest market share of over 70 per cent, say dealers. Beer is its primary product, though it also sells vodka, whiskey and gin. PHOTO: FILE

Murree Brewery remains the favourite among buyers as it holds the largest market share of over 70 per cent, say dealers. Beer is its primary product, though it also sells vodka, whiskey and gin. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: 

From the small window of a shop in a dingy neighbourhood of the city, a salesman can’t keep up with the rush of customers clamouring for his attention.

It’s a week day and the commodity on sale is liquor. Men hurry in and out of the shop, slipping in money across a cage-like counter and slipping out with their purchases wrapped in brown paper bags.

But inside the dimly-lit store, the shop owner is counting the weeks it will take him to sell his stock. Around him, crate upon crate of unsold alcoholic beverages is piled up against a 10-foot high wall. The problem is simple: One brand that is popular sells like hot cakes, another, which is not that popular, remains unsold. Shop owners say that they are being pressurised to sell the brand that no one wants to buy. That too by the government.

“No one is ready to buy these products,” says the store owner, pointing at the beer and vodka manufactured by a local company. “But we still have to stock it because that’s the only way we could keep this business going.”

Wine shops in Sindh are being forced to stock products of Indus Distillery and Brewery Limited, a company owned by a senator of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Hari Ram Kishorilal.

In a bizarre twist, the Sindh Excise and Taxation department, which oversees liquor sales in the province, has made it mandatory for all wholesalers and retailers to purchase “at least 20 per cent of alcoholic beverages from Indus Distillery.” This rule has been in place since 2009.

Authorised dealers are allowed to sell brands of only three local breweries – Indus, Murree and Quetta distilleries. Every time a dealer buys liquor from one these companies, he is issued a transport permit by the excise department.

The permit states “for any quantity purchased from Murree or Quetta distilleries, 20 per cent will have to be bought from Indus.”

“This is frustrating for us as customers don’t like Indus,” said another retailer who also wanted to remain anonymous. “We are basically being used as sales agents for a company whose products don’t sell.”

In the market, Murree Brewery remains the favourite. It holds the largest market share of over 70 per cent, say dealers.

This has not stopped the government from turning the screws on dealers to make them sell the ‘officially sanctioned’ brand.

There is so much fear of the licences being revoked that none of the liquor dealers were willing to speak on record. “Excise officials also express their helplessness. They talk of pressure from the highest office,” alleged one dealer.

Indus Distillery, formerly Beach Brewery, was bought by Hari Ram and another individual Kiran Kumar, in 2009, according to records of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP).

Beach Brewery was set up by Byram Avari, the owner of Avari Hotels, in the 1990s. When contacted for details, Avari refused to comment. However, a person close to the company said that the distillery was sold at a discount as the sponsors were continuously harassed.

When asked to explain, Excise and Taxation Director Shabir Ahmed Shaikh said that he “sees nothing wrong in asking dealers to stock certain percentage of Indus’s products.”

He added: “The company is located in Sindh and it contributes to the taxes. What’s wrong in giving it a little preference?” However, he failed to disclose how much the provincial kitty was benefitting from this privilege.

Curiously, Hari Ram, who has been mentioned as the CEO in the SECP document, insists that he has nothing to do with the company.

“My name was just used for the transaction. I have not invested in the company. It is someone else,” he said. He had promised to share details but did not respond to subsequent phone calls.

This curious state of affairs gives rise to many questions about who is behind this company, and why is the official machinery falling head over heels to oblige it, say observers.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 16th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (25)

  • Ordinary Villager
    Jun 16, 2012 - 5:53AM

    Murree brewery will remain the best whatever the other distilleries will do. I am a fan of Murree brewery products and I will always be.

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  • saeed
    Jun 16, 2012 - 7:52AM

    I am fan murre brewery .they must introduce there stuff to out side world ,so Pakistan make some foreign exchange.

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  • Jun 16, 2012 - 8:45AM

    Indus Distillery today.. Indus Air tomorrow.

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  • Usman
    Jun 16, 2012 - 9:01AM

    Just another way for the PPP govt. to get democratic revenge from the people.

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  • Ali
    Jun 16, 2012 - 10:35AM

    Make alcohol legal in this country.. Pakistan produces one of the best beer in the world (murree).. Why hide it from the world? India did it successfully with kingfisher.. At the end, it is our country which is going to benefit the most if liquor selling n drinking is legalized..

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  • Jun 16, 2012 - 12:13PM

    Launch Murry inn India. i have heard so much about it but never seen it.

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  • Anonymous
    Jun 16, 2012 - 1:17PM

    Yes its sale, purchase, drinking and export should be made legal…as an agricultural economy we can make the most out of this business and industry…

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  • Jairam
    Jun 16, 2012 - 1:46PM

    it is painful, when we go to purchase murree brewery products and wine shop forces me to purchase low quality indus product. On querry he says – i am forced to purchase, so where shall i sale?? i have to sale by force too. PPP govt should take notice

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  • anonymous
    Jun 16, 2012 - 1:50PM

    they should just allow these companies to import foreign alcohol and make proper wine shops across the city and tax it to generate income.

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  • Khalid Khan
    Jun 16, 2012 - 1:58PM

    By the way Murree beer is exported and available all across Europe along with their own local brands.

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  • M.A.S
    Jun 16, 2012 - 2:35PM

    Alochol used to sell like Mayfair Toffees till 1970’s till it was banned. It must be legalised.

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  • Rabia A
    Jun 16, 2012 - 3:29PM

    Excellent story! :) <3

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  • Fareed
    Jun 16, 2012 - 4:00PM

    Legalize all drugs why only alcohol. We only want the negative things from the west not the stuff that will keep this nation going forward. Honestly, Integrity, Hard work and a milling other things the west has we don’t. Why don’t we try getting one of those things in the land of ours and then we can enjoy it with a chilled beer.

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  • Tahir Amjad
    Jun 16, 2012 - 6:24PM

    Those who r advocating to legalise liquor business will ceartaily demand for legalising prostituion and tax it to generate more money.. Recommend

  • Talha
    Jun 16, 2012 - 7:00PM

    The excise and taxation department is taking no action because the department’s provincial minister, mukesh chawla, is a non-muslim.

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  • Ali
    Jun 16, 2012 - 7:00PM

    I am lost for words.

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  • Cheers
    Jun 16, 2012 - 7:16PM

    All well written except the last two paragraphs which adulterate into the wine and causes tasteless. Only Alcohol can bring peace and can suck even terrorism:) Lets Cheers:)

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  • Jun 16, 2012 - 7:17PM

    Legalise liqour production and consumption… legalise other illicit stuff tooo…

    And then pass a minor ammnedment to remove “Islamic Republic” for name of the state….

    Inalillah -e- wa inaelhee rajeeoon

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  • Student
    Jun 16, 2012 - 8:28PM

    Monitor every buyer, chase him … then legalize Alcohol Recommend

  • Mansoor
    Jun 16, 2012 - 8:30PM

    @Zaheer

    I totally agree with you. These ‘So Called Muslims’ think that Islam or Sharia is lame concept devised by an Imam of a mosque who never went to school or any other educational institution. Probably, its the same liquor in their blood that never lets them read Quran with translation and see what Allah has to say about liquor (am talking about Muslims)

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  • observer
    Jun 16, 2012 - 9:51PM

    @Fareed

    We only want the negative things from the west not the stuff that will keep this nation going forward.

    Are you sure Arabia was free of Alcohol, till it was corrupted by the evil West. Omar Khayyam included?

    Honestly, Integrity, Hard work and a milling other things the west has we don’t. Why don’t we try getting one of those things in the land of ours and then we can enjoy it with a chilled beer.

    You could have simply said ‘Secularism’ and saved so many words.

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  • Jun 16, 2012 - 9:55PM

    All the people wants it to be legalized? do they have any positive reason to legalized it? Recommend

  • joseph
    Jun 16, 2012 - 11:13PM

    from the comments of Director Shabir Ahmed – it is clear that department and province has no benefit from “forced sale of Indus brewery products”. The only benefit seems to be of “some” individuals, who are so powerful that excise department follow their illegal orders blindly. Is it CM himself? Plus when CEO of indus says – i have no concern with company then whose company is this?? it should be revealed.

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  • Arvind Chinoy
    Jun 17, 2012 - 2:54AM

    Does any one know if Muree brewery have distributions in Califonia or any USA state?

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  • Mawali
    Jun 17, 2012 - 3:08AM

    Legalize and do away with hypocrisy. Let it be a choice!

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