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Nov 01

OASIS IN AN ISLAND

           OASIS IN AN ISLAND

If you consider Rawalpindi Park area an Island of the elite of Rawalpindi, housing the General’s colony, Army House, GOR –I   and the area of 22 ACRES within this island there is an Oasis called the Murree Brewery (MB) Estate on park road.

For an outsider M.B estate gives a defiant mysterious esoteric bearing & demeanor but this M.B is one of the oldest companies of South Asia with a very rich history corporate diversity and archival heritage.

The history of the company dates back to the year 1860, when there was dearth of supply of good beer to the British troops in Northern India.

The imported beer being costly in those days, hence Pir Panjal Hills Brewery was setup in 1860, and Quetta distillery was part of this setup till 1947.

This GHORA GALI brewery was built in the Gothic style of architecture was vandalized during the riots of Independence of Pakistan in 1947, while the brewery in Quetta was destroyed in 1935 because of the great Quetta earthquake.

In the formative years the Brewery was managed by the family of Edward Dyer, father of Colonel Reginald Edward Harry Dyer of Jallianwala Bagh massacre fame. He was the man who had supervised the Pir Panjal Brewery construction in the beginning and later on was managed by George Duncun who remained the general manager of Murree Brewery for 40 years.

Murree Brewery is one of the oldest public companies of the South Asia and was registered on the Kolkata Stock Exchange on 18th August 1884 and its shares were traded as early as 1885 and is now the oldest continuing industrial enterprise of Pakistan.

Great progress was made by Murree Brewery Company LTD, after its formation in the year 1860, and the unprecedented demand for their famous ales and stout over a greatly increasing area of the Northern India, encouraged the directors to erect a another branch brewery at Rawalpindi about thirty years later.

 

In the 1940’s, the controlling shares or interests in the brewery were obtained by Peshton Dhanji Bandhara, who used to run a liquor business in Lahore prior to the independence of Pakistan by the name of D.P Edulji & Company (Pvt.) Limited which still has its offices in No. 10 commercial building Shahra – e – Quaid Azam Lahore.

P.D Bhandara at the time of independence had to run from pillar to post in order to purchase the shares of MB from Hindu’s, Sikh’s and British Shareholders. He was given a very tough time by Sayid Saigol who also was interested in hostile takeover of Murree Brewery but P.D Bhandara hired the tops lawyers of that time Sir Abdul Rashid Mr.  M.  Amwar and Justice Shabir Ahmed who won the court cases for P.D Bhandara which got him the hold of the control of the company.

Peshton Dhanji Bandhara was succeeded by his son, late M.P. Bandhara who later on carried on the family business and now it is being run by a grandson, Mr. Isphanyar Bandhara who is also a minority MNA in the N.A of Pakistan.

 

Mr. M.P Bhandara early in 1960 at a young age of 21 years diversified the company in to downstream activity by opening up associated TOPS and Murree Glass in 1969.

 

Keeping in tradition for new avenues M.B in 2008 went for value addition and induction of new technology where R&D became foremost followed by Refinement & Consolidation in glass bottling technology.

TOPS started its operation from Chowburji in Lahore in 1990, but later on shifted to Kot Lakpat on 31st July 1993 but the title deed was transferred on Murree Brewery’s name in 1996 and second plant started in Rawalpindi in 1995 and later on shifted to Hattar in 2004.

Murree Glass plant was imported from Sweden in 1974, first installed at Rawalpindi and later on shifted to Hattar in 1993.

Murree sparklets was purchased by M.P Bhandara from Hashoo Group on 01st April 2011.

Many of the Pindite’s may be unaware that the Army house was gifted by M.P Bhandara in 1982 which was at that time named as Park Lodge. Park Lodge a majestic residential property which was purchased by M.B from Mrs. H. Whimper in 1888.

 

It was the principal residence and the head office of the company till 1959 until it was taken over by Government of Pakistan to house the office of the Prime minister of Pakistan. Sums of Rs. 2.80 Lakhs were paid as lease money for the camp office of Army Chief. This park lodge also used to house the HQ of Anti Narcotics Force, Banazir Bhutto later on made it in to SINDH HOUSE for a short time.

It remained an office of the head of State of Pakistan from 1960 till 2008.

Some very interesting folktales about Murree Brewery is that there was an underground tunnel linking the camp office with M.B estate but on my further sleuthing and investigations of the cellars I did find plastered and closed openings in the cellar hence I could not come to any logical conclusion.

Another historical point of interest which very few Pindite’s are unaware of that a narrow gauge railway track used to come to the Military Diary farms and terminated at Murree Brewery bringing the supplies to Military Diary Farm and Murree Brewery.

As the General’s colony was being built this line was subject to scuttling hence the small gauge locomotives ceased to come to its termination point in the head office of Murree Brewery.

Apart from its corporate diversity M.B is also a very socially conscious corporate citizen and is funding the CSR training institute where the building and Utilities are maintained by M.B.

The Bhandara Foundation with its head quarters in Lahore is headed by Justice Nassira Iqbal and Justice Amer Raza as its trustee and are looking after the poor and down trodden section of the society.

The Murree Brewery Polo Cup and Golf Cup which is an important fixed event in the Rawalpindi Garrison’s Annual Calendar is sponsored by M.B since 1904, under the auspices of the Rawalpindi Polo Club. In spring each year the top polo teams of Pakistan compete and vie for the honor of this cup and the cup is held for safe custody by the president of Rawalpindi Polo Club housed in the Race Course Ground.

The present management of M.B wants to take the company to the pinnacle and zenith for the maximum return to the shareholders but is bogged down by multiple problems like high Utility bills, disruption of gas and Electricity supply and dual taxation.

Such step motherly treatment is being meted out to the company that the company is under litigation with the taxation authorities in various courts of law which are Sub judice.

Now a day’s Murree Brewery is a thriving public limited company where the main share holding rests with the Bhandara family and there are about 1600 share holders including this scribe.

 

The present success story of Murree Brewery is not a bed of roses but a roller coaster ride through ages having survived prohibition and liquor ban by the late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

Secondly it had to face shutting down of its operation for 26 days because of the vested interests in collaboration and connivance with the local and political authorities who instigated the worker’s to strike taking the protective umbrella of the environmental protection laws.

 

Despite all these obstacles, hurdles, impediments and adverse scenario M.B has been able to keep its head well above the waters and has come of age. It is now amongst the top 25 award winning companies of the Pakistan Stock Exchange contributing a handsome amount to the national ex-chequer and giving the maximum return to its shareholders.

 

 

BABUR ZAHIRUDDIN