Supreme Court rewrites rules for Maharashtra dance bars shut for 13 years
The Supreme Court has delivered its verdict on pleas of hotel and restaurant owners challenging the Maharashtra government’s new rules on the functioning of dance bars in the state.
The Supreme Court on Thursday paved the way for the reopening of dance bars in Mumbai, relaxing stringent conditions imposed by the Maharashtra government on their licencing and functioning that, it held, had virtually prohibited their running.
The court, however, upheld the restriction on timings — from 6.30 pm to 11.30 pm — but allowed tips to be given directly to the dancers. However, it barred the showering of currency notes on them.
A bench of justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan struck down certain provisions of the Maharashtra Prohibition of Obscene Dance in Hotels, Restaurant and Bar Rooms and Protection of Dignity of Women (Working therein) Act, 2016, and rewrote rules framed under it, in a bid to maintain a balance between public interest and the constitutional right to earn a livelihood.
The court noted that the conditions were hardly in the nature of regulations as the real effect was prohibition of dance bars. It brought on record that the state had granted no licences since 2005 despite a top court verdict that declared two provisions of the Bombay Police Act barring dance bars as unconstitutional.
The verdict came on a petition filed by restaurant owners’ association and a bar girls’ union challenging the 2016 Act that set conditions for operation of dance bars. The petition contended that by bringing the law, the Maharashtra government had tried to circumvent a previous top court order allowing re-opening of dance bars. This was after Maharashtra had first banned dance bars in August 2005 .
The court held that obscene dances could not be permitted in a dance bar and an employer permitting them would be jailed for three years. It quashed a rule that entitles only a person with “good character”, “good antecedents” and without a “criminal record in the past ten years” to obtain bar licences. Such terms are not defined or precise, the court said.
To protect the dignity of women, the SC banned showering of money on the dancers but allowed giving them tips.
The condition to mandatorily segregate the bar room from the dance stage was also quashed as the court found it “unreasonable, having “no rationale to the objective of the law.” On the rule that barred operation of such bars within one km of religious and educational institutions, the court said this was impossible to implement in a city like Mumbai and asked the administration to provide a workable solution.
Quashing the ban on serving of alcohol in dance bars, the court said, “It seems the state is more influenced by moralistic overtones under wrong presumption that persons after consuming alcohol would misbehave with the dancers. ..”
On the state’s arguments that stringent measures were required to maintain “morality” in society, the court said the administration could not thrust its notion of “morality” on the people. “...standards of morality in a society change with the passage of time...,” the court said.
Pravin Agrawal, vice-president of the Fight for Rights of Bar Owners Association, said, “Most of what we demanded has been approved of, but a clause still remains that there should be no obscene performance. Now, that is a subjective term. We do not want the police to simply raid our bars every now and then, which is why we will ask for clarity on it.”
Officials from the Maharashtra home department said the SC ruling was a victory for the state government as the 2016 Act had not been struck down per se.
“The restriction on timings would be mainly a discouraging rule for the dance bar operator as the actual business in such bars begin after 11pm.... Most importantly, the clause of obscenity has not been struck down, giving the licencing authority the powers to keep activities well within control,” an official said on condition of anonymity.
Ranjit Patil, minister of state for home, said, “The ruling has no reflection of public sentiment which is against dance bars. We will decide on the further course of action after studying the judgement.”
First Published: Jan 17, 2019 11:10:18