The federal law ministry, together with a parliamentary panel, emerged as a bulwark against a bill moved by the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) chief advocating a ban on alcohol for non-Muslims.
The law ministry in its draft – a copy of which is also available with The Express Tribune – termed the bill unjustifiable, unreasonable and misconceived. “The bill moved by Maulana Sherani will not serve any purpose and must be vehemently opposed,” said the law ministry in its comments.
It pointed out that since alcohol was not forbidden for non-Muslims in any of the country’s constitutions, past and present, it would be against the “principle of the policy to modify the clause” now.
As per the present legislation, non-Muslims can drink alcohol. But they must first obtain a permit from the government and pay a fee for getting a fixed monthly quota, which is determined on the basis of an individual’s income.
The holder has to renew the permit every year and it is not issued without a religious certificate available also to the church authorities.
An adviser of the law ministry told The Express Tribune that the bill seeks to omit the clause: “And, in the case of non-Muslim, religious purposes.”
In this connection, it is pointed out that the aforesaid clause is verbatim copy of Clause (f) of Article 28 of the 1956 Constitution and it also finds mention in Article 8 of 1962 Constitution and Article 48 of interim Constitution of 1972.
In its written reply, the law ministry also held that the argument – stated in the CII bill’s ‘statement of objectives and reasons’ – that in Pakistan the existing religions are facing criminal cases due to this clause which is not based on any logic and reason, because this provision seeks to discourage alcoholic beverages.
The law dealing with this matter is called the Prohibition (Enforcement of Hadd) Order, 1979 and not under clause (h) of the Article 37 of the Constitution, the reply stated.
The National Assembly’s standing committee on law and justice also recommended that Maulana Sherani take back his bill because it is against the freedom of citizens and could tarnish the image of the country abroad.
Maulana Sherani said a number of non-Muslim MPs are also movers of the bill and they should also be consulted on the issue. The committee will also hear them at the next hearing but the members convinced Maulana Sherani that he would not stress his bill anymore in future.
The bill seeks to amend clause (h) of Article 37 of the Constitution which reads, “prevent the consumption of alcoholic liquor otherwise than for medicinal and, in the case of non-Muslims, religious purposes.”
MNA Muhammad Bashir Virk, chairman of the committee, said that it would not be suitable to cancel permits for alcohol, because there are some traditions in which wine is served even in the churches. The Sikh religion also has not outlawed the use of alcohol, he added.
PPP MNAs Syed Naveed Qamar, Ayaz Somroo and Senator Saaeda Iqbal also opposed Sherani’s bill and termed it against the spirit of the unanimously passed 1973 Constitution. The ruling party’s lawmakers also did not support the bill.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2014.
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