ISLAMABAD -  The Supreme Court (SC) on Monday suspended a Sindh High Court (SHC) order to close down 120 liquor shops operating across Sindh.

A two-judge SC bench comprising Justice Ejaz Afzal and Justice Mazhar Alam admitting an appeal against the SHC order observed that the high court could not pass an order for the closure of liquor shops. The apex court directed that the case should be fixed before a three-member bench within three weeks.

The SHC had ordered to close down 120 liquor shops.

Shahid Hamid, appearing on behalf of liquor shop owners, contended that liquor shops operating in Sindh were licenced and paying tax and they should be allowed to sell the liquor.

Justice Afzal observed that the sale of alcohol was banned in the country in 1979. "If someone is found violating the law [regarding the sale of liquor], the police can act against them," he said. He also added that if someone violates the law after the court's current ruling, contempt proceedings could be initiated against them.

Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz MNA and patron-in-chief of Pakistan Hindu Council, informed the court that the Hindu religion prohibits alcohol use. He said that liquor shops have been set up near churches, mosques and temples. He urged the court not to lift the ban on liquor shops until the Sindh government files a reply in the SHC to regulate the sale of liquor in the province.

The SHC had held that 120 shops operating across the province were clearly engaged in the illegal sale of wine and liquor, without ensuring that it was sold to non-Muslims alone and that too within the prescribed quota, thus violating prohibition rules and doing business contrary to the injunctions of the Haddod Order 1979.

The SHC had ordered the director general of excise and taxation to seal all the liquor shops in Sindh with immediate effect and asked the inspector general of police to ensure compliance in this regard.

The court had given the Sindh government one month to evolve a mechanism in consultation with the stakeholders to ensure that only licenced liquor shops sell wine and liquor to non-Muslims within the permissible quota as part of their religious ceremonies and maintained a record of sales which should be made available to the public.