The Supreme Court on Wednesday annulled the Oct 27 Sindh High Court (SHC) order about cancellation of licences of about 124 wine shops in the province.
A three-member bench presided by Justice Mian Saqib Nisar was hearing the case on a petition against the SHC order.
Accepting the appeals of the petitioners and returning the case to the SHC, the apex court ordered hearings on the case to take place on a daily basis starting next week.
“This order should not be taken to mean that the Supreme Court has granted permission for the sale of alcohol,” Justice Nisar said during the hearing.
He added: “We are not concerned with whether wine retail is permitted or not, we are concerned with how lawful the matter is.”
Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, the patron of Pakistan Hindu Council and PML-N MNA, who was present during the hearing said, it was not right to “sell alcohol in the name of religion”.
“In Hinduism, selling and drinking alcohol is prohibited,” he said.
In response, Justice Nisar reminded Dr Ramesh that he is not a party in the case and asked him to sit.
“The Supreme Court has used it’s suo moto jurisdiction in this case. The Supreme Court is an institution for the explanation of the law.”
The petition was moved on behalf of the Kohistan Wine Shop, Karachi; Azad Wine Shop, Karachi; Mehran Wine Shop, Hyderabad; Arjun Wine Agency, Mirpurkhas; Mazda Trading, Karachi; Master Wine Shop, Sukkur; Sindh Wine Shop, Nawabshah; and Lucky and Company, Karachi.
The petitioners pleaded before the SC that they were law-abiding citizens of the country and had paid Rs3 billion in duties to the government last year.
They said that on Oct 18, the SHC had ordered the Sindh government and its departments concerned to initiate the process of cancelling the licences of the liquor shops.
The order came with an observation that no provision under Article 17 of the Constitution allowed the legal authority to grant general licences to liquor shops to operate throughout the year as non-Muslims could only be provided liquor for consumption at their religious ceremonies for which the request could be made in advance.
In their appeal, the liquor shop owners pleaded that the high court had arbitrarily, and without examining the sale records of the wine shops, concluded that liquor was being sold in violation of Article 17 of the Prohibition (Enforcement of Hadd) Order, 1979, particularly when there was not a single complaint against the petitioners.
The petitioners said that no material was available with the excise department regarding religious festivals of non-Muslims at which consumption of alcohol was permissible.
Moreover, the petition said, the SHC did not seek views of all the religious minorities living in Sindh, like the Parsi community.
The petitioners argued that alcohol factories and stores were operating in various parts of Pakistan, including the Islamabad Capital Territory, Balochistan and Punjab, and that livelihood of at least 24,000 people was at stake as they were working in the alcohol retail business in Sindh.
“They are faced with the loss of livelihood and grave and irreparable financial damage has hit the petitioners as a consequence of the SHC order where they are not acting in any illegal manner and show-cause notices have been issued to them without giving them an opportunity to be heard or to make alternative business plans,” the petitioners said.