KARACHI: The PPP-led Sindh government has stripped Mukesh Kumar Chawla of the Excise and Taxation portfolio over what the party’s senior leadership has termed the minister’s ‘negligence’ in issuing licenses to substandard wine shops in Hyderabad that lead to deaths of around 20 people in last five days.
Despite Sunday being a work holiday, the notification for Chawla’s removal was issued on the directive of Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah. The Ministry of Excise and Taxation will now be overlooked by Minister for Forests and Wildlife, Gyan Chand Asrani.
“The investigations had established that he [Chawla] started issuing the liquor permits, without even directing the officials under his ministry to visit the shops and carry out regular inspections,” a senior PPP leader and chief minister’s aide told The Express Tribune, while requesting anonymity.
The 40-year-old Jacobabad-born politician is presently residing in Karachi’s Defence Housing Authority area and had been in the good books of the PPP leadership for over a decade. He has been a member of Sindh Assembly on a minorities seat for the last three general elections, and had been serving as the excise and taxation minister for around six and a half years.
In 2013, Sindh Chief Minister had taken back the portfolio from Chawla, giving him with industries instead but the notification was withdrawn within a matter of hours for undisclosed reasons.
During Chawla’s tenure as minister, the Sindh government had issued more licences to liquor shops than all the preceding governments over the past 60 years, sources in the office of the excise and taxation director general told The Express Tribune.
Meanwhile, excise and taxation department’s secretary Abdul Majeed Pathan said that the regional excise and taxation director, Agha Abdur Rehman, had also been removed from the office over the deaths in Hyderabad.
“Our intelligence team will map out the toxic liquor sales locations and this will be followed by a province-wide crackdown,” added Pathan.
Over 20 people have died due to the consumption of toxic liquor in the last five days and around 150 sellers and buyers of the hazardous substance have been arrested.
Police lodged 20 FIRs and nominated 22 suspects in the case, some of whom have been named in multiple FIRs, in eight police stations.