LAHORE - The Punjab government’s policy about liquor is encouraging the use of what is regarded as the mother of all evils.

The revenue target given to the relevant department is raised every year as a result of which the liquor use is going up with the passage of time despite the fact that it is forbidden in Islam and Christianity.

According to official sources, the excise department has been given a target of Rs 2.8 billion this year, which is higher from last year’s Rs 2.6 billion.

The liquor permits are issued only to Christians while Muslims purchase it from this community, so this has become a profitable business for the sellers.

Now Christians also want to discourage the use of liquor. For this purpose, they plan to approach the court to get a verdict against it.

Talking to The Nation, Minorities Islahi Association Punjab Chief Organizer Billu Saith said, “Some senior excise and taxation officers are bringing bad name to Christianity by selling liquor under the cover of our religion.” He said use and sale of liquor was prohibited in Christianity too.

It is worth mentioning here that there are nine points where sale of liquor is allowed in Punjab.

They include four top hotels of Lahore, one each in Faisalabad, Multan, Bhurban and two in Rawalpindi.

Christians and Hindus are the two largest (non-Muslim) religious minorities in Pakistan. The total number of Christians in Pakistan was estimated at 2.5 million in 2005 or 1.6% of the population.

In Punjab, this population is 1.7 million which makes 2.31 percent of total. Keeping it in view, the Punjab excise and taxation department has issued about 12,000 permits to Christians for the purchase of liquor.

As per policy, every permit holder is allowed to purchase six units (six large-sized bottles) against his permit after a month. Non-Muslims, including Hindus, Christians, Parsis and others are issued permit, called PR-1, to purchase liquor in Pakistan while foreign non-Muslims are issued Permit PR-2.

The excise and taxation department is, however, selling liquor beyond its limits. The Punjab government sets heavy revenue target for the excise branch of the excise and taxation department every year, a senior officer seeking anonymity said. Non-Muslims from the districts other than Lahore purchase liquor from their nearest cities like Faisalabad, Multan and Rawalpindi.

In October this year, the Sindh High Court ordered the provincial government to revoke licences of all liquor shops operating in the province.

During the hearing, the excise and taxation DG submitted its report, stating there were 59 registered liquor shops operating in Karachi, on which the court expressed its concern, remarking it seemed there were more such shops than the number of non-Muslims in the metropolis.

SHC Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah who was heading the bench remarked that so much liquor was being sold in Karachi that minority communities could bathe in it.

A minority rights activist filed a petition in the Multan Bench of Lahore High Court that the excise and taxation authorities were covering up the preparation of spurious liquor in permit rooms despite the court order to investigate the serious issue.

Ilyas Khan, President of Minorities Islahi Association, had prayed in his petition that the owner of a top hotel had given the permit room on contract to one Israr Gul Niazi who was running the business of spurious liquor.

Khan maintained although he had provided photo evidence of the illegal activity to E&T Director General Akram Ashraf Gondal, he remained unmoved for the reasons best known to him.

According to the excise laws, a permit holder is not allowed to give a permit room on contract, but hotel’s owner had leased it against Rs 1.3 million per month.

Earlier, the Multan Bench directed the E&T DG to decide the application pending before him strictly in accordance with the law after hearing the petitioner and all others within 30 days.

The DG, in his reply, refuted the claims and stated that no liquor was being prepared in permit rooms as no such machinery had been installed there.

About the non-renewal of the licence, the DG said the record of its holder presented by the excise ETO was examined and found that licence in Form L-2 had been granted to the hotel in Multan.

On the other hand, minority rights activists Billu Saith said the excise and taxation DG had submitted his reply to the court without hearing them and the issue was yet to be resolved.