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They wanted Rs 13 cr: Bar owner

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April 15, 2005

The Maharashtra government's decision to ban dance bars in Mumbai has evoked extreme reactions from bar employees and owners, NGOs and the public.

Bar dancers will be the worst affected lot when the decision is enforced.

Mostly uneducated and poor, these dancers have few other options to earn a living. Many of them have children and families to support.

While the cause of the dancers grabbed the media glare, other issues that needed attention included the future of the bar business and the state government's 'reasons' for the ban.

Taking up these issues, the Fight For Rights of Bar Owners' Association decided to move the courts against the government's decision.

Association president Manjeet Singh Sethi has been focussing on saving the jobs of 150,000 dance bar employees across the state.

In an interview with Senior Correspondent Vijay Singh [Images], Sethi discussed dance bars, the problems they face and the problems they purportedly cause.

Who will be worst affected by the ban on dance bars?

The families of bar employees will be hit badly. For me it is a blessing in disguise. After dance bars are banned, I will enter the construction business and make money.

But what will the girls do? Who will take them in?

The government should provide them jobs with a minimum salary of Rs 5,000 per month which is very difficult, because most of them are uneducated.

Before taking the decision, the government should have consulted us; but they didn't.

How many dance bars are there in Maharashtra?

We have some 1,250 dance bars in Maharashtra, 600 of which are in Mumbai and 650 in other cities.

Around 75,000 dancers are employed in these bars. There are a similar number of male employees.

For instance, my bar has 35 dancers. We have 10 stewards, 12 waiters, and some cooks and cleaners.

What are the options before them now?

Around 1 percent of the dancers are very good looking and educated. They may get breaks in television, films or modelling. But there are no guarantees.

Dance bars are thriving in Bangalore and Hyderabad too. Some 5 to 6 per cent of the girls may migrate to those cities.

But these girls account for hardly 10 percent of the bar dancers. What will the other 90 percent do?

In Mumbai, girls are confident about their safety. So they don't move to other states unless forced to do so.

What do you think prompted the government to take this decision?

There are many reasons. America's pressure on the central government to stop trafficking could be one reason. Another could be that we didn't pay the government what it demanded.

The government demanded money?

One (Editor's note: Name deleted) demanded Rs 13 crore from me -- Rs 12 crore for the party (Nationalist Congress Party) and Rs 1 crore for himself.

He is now underground. He has a cabin in the NCP's head office. He was demanding money from us. My telephone bill statement is proof of this. He would call me often, sometimes late in the night, to discuss the matter. An NCP worker from Kurla also used to demand money from me.

How did this man go about asking for such a huge amount?

He went about it very cleverly. He called me at the NCP office when Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister R R Patil was addressing some people in the office compound. (Name deleted) asked me to take a seat in his cabin. I could see the deputy CM from where I was sitting. After some time, (Name deleted) went out and spoke with Patil in a friendly manner. I was watching them. He came back and demanded Rs 13 crore.

Were you ready to pay Rs 13 crore?

Yes, we were ready to pay. But in return we wanted the government to allow us to increase bar timings and solve some other problems. But they were not ready to accept our demands.

You verbally attacked Mr R R Patil. Many bar owners have expressed unhappiness over your comments.

I never abused anyone. I just said I would not tolerate it if somebody attacked me. It is when NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) workers tried to attack my bar that I said something against R R Patil. But I never abused him.

Some bar owners were unhappy with me when I said somebody had demanded money from me on Patil's behalf. But now they are supporting my move to demand a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the money angle.

The deputy CM called bar owners pimps and bar dancers prostitutes. He should have more respect for us.

If he abuses us, why should we tolerate it?

This is turning into an R R Patil versus Manjit Singh Sethi fight.

I am a very small person compared with R R Patil. He is the deputy chief minister of Maharashtra.

If he is angry with me, he is free to take action against me. Why he is harassing the whole industry?

I am fighting for my self-respect.

Why punish all bars to target a few that double as prostitution dens?

A dance bar is a place people come to for entertainment.

If the government is worried about the corrupting influence of dance bars, they should also close television channels and award shows, which have generous displays of skin.

There is a lot of nudity on Fashion TV. Why is the government not taking any action against them under Indian Penal Code section 294 (obscene acts and songs)?

There are belly dance shows in five star hotels, to which the rich people flock. Why is no action being taken against those hotels?

What is your next move?

We have approached the court seeking interim relief. We are also going to organise a big protest of bar employees and owners at Azad Maidan (Mumbai's famed rally ground).

But the bars are open despite the ban.

The government announced the ban in a hurry. First, they have to formulate a GR (government resolution), which they have to then forward to police stations across the state. Closure of the dance bars is possible only after that.

How it will affect your industry?

If we don't have dance in our bars, our customers will thin out. They will turn to beer bars.

People might book themselves into hotel rooms and arrange for girls to perform there, in which case the girls' safety is compromised.

In dance bars, we ensure the girls' security.

Many families depend on the income of bar employees. Many bar dancers' children study in good schools. They will no longer be able to afford the cost of educating their kids.

It will also affect the liquor industry. I am trying to contact Vijay Mallya [Images] (Chairman of the United Breweries [Get Quote] group) for help.

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