The court allowed tips to performers but disallowed showering of currency on them.
Decks were cleared for the return of dance bars in Maharashtra with the Supreme Court on Thursday quashing some of the stringent restrictions imposed by the state government that made it virtually impossible to get licences for these entertainment establishments.
In a relief to dance bar owners and employees, the apex court held there can be ‘regulations’ but not ‘total prohibition’ and also overturned the rule that prohibited serving alcohol in the bars.
The bench, however, upheld the provision restricting the timing of operation of dance bars from 6 pm to 11.30 pm and allowed tips to be directly given to the performers but disallowed showering of currency on them.
The Bharatiya Bar Girls' union president Varsha Kale, who has been fighting for the cause of bar dancers, said the verdict was a great ‘victory’ since some of the dancers were forced to join flesh trade. Manjit Singh Sethi, who spearheaded the fight to reopen dance bars and moved the Bombay high court earlier, also welcomed the decision.
Setting aside some provisions of a 2016 act that imposed restrictions on licensing and functioning, a bench headed by Justice A K Sikri said no licences have been granted for dance bars after the amendment to the Maharashtra Police Act in 2005.
Though the Maharashtra Prohibition of Obscene Dance in Hotels, Restaurants and Bar Rooms and Protection of Dignity of Women (Working therein) Act, 2016 ‘appears to be regulatory in nature, the real consequences and effect is to prohibit such dance bars’, it added
“From 2005 till date, not a single person has been given licence (for dance bars). It cannot be done. There can be regulations but it cannot amount to total prohibition," said the two-judge bench that also included Justice Ashok Bhushan while pronouncing the judgment.
Holding that the state government cannot exercise ‘social control’ with its own ‘notion of morality’, the court hoped it would now consider applications for grant of licences ‘with open mind’ so that there is no complete ban on staging dance performances at designated places.
The court also quashed the provisions of the act like the mandatory installations of CCTV cameras in the dance bars saying they violated privacy.
It set aside the provision which mandated there must be a partition between bar rooms and the dance floor.
The 100-page verdict was pronounced on the pleas of association of various hotel owners and bar owners, R R Patil Foundation and Bhartiya Bargirls Union challenging certain provisions of the 2016 law.
Dealing with a condition of the Act which stipulated that dance bars should be located at least one kilometre away from educational and religious institutions, the court said it amounted to ‘fulfilling an impossible condition’ as it is difficult to find any place in Mumbai which is one kilometre away from such institutions.
Regarding a Rule under the Act which stipulated that only those persons, who possesses a ‘good character’ and have no criminal record for last 10 years, were entitled to hold licence for dance bars, the bench said these terms were ‘not definite or precise’.
“These expressions are capable of any interpretation and, therefore, it is left to the wisdom of the licensing authority to adjudge whether a particular person possesses good character or good antecedents or not,” it said.
Earlier, the petitioners told the bench the state government tried to circumvent a previous order of the apex court allowing the reopening of the dance bars by bringing in the new 2016 law on conditions for operation of dance bars.
Hotel and restaurant owners argued that the state government adopted an attitude that it will not permit operations of dance bars irrespective of the orders passed by the apex court.
The Maharashtra government, in an affidavit filed before the court, defended the operation of a new law meant to regulate licensing and functioning of dance bars in the state.
"It was observed that such dances were derogatory to the dignity of women and were likely to deprave, corrupt or injure public morality," the government said.
"It was also brought to the notice of the state government that the places where such dances were staged were used as places for immoral activities and also as a place for solicitation for the purpose of prostitution," the government added.
Home Minister Ranjit Patil said it will respect the verdict but will check any ‘untoward activity’ taking place under the garb of dance bars.
"We are committed to abide by the court's verdict and respect it. Within the ambit of the decision, we will maintain vigilance so that no untoward activities happen under the garb of dance bars," Patil said in Mumbai.
Education Minister Vinod Tawde said the Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government presented its case well before the Supreme Court.
Tawde's comments came after the opposition Nationalist Congress Party alleged that the state government took a weak stand that has led the apex court to allow the reopening of the dance bars.
NCP leader Dhananjay Munde asked the state government to take immediate legal steps to ensure that dance bars do not start operating in the state once again.
Activist Kale said over 75,000 women were employed in dance bars when the state government decided to shut them down in 2005 for allegedly promoting obscenity.
While over 40,000 women left the profession and took up other jobs for livelihood, around 35,000 were still working as waiters and singers in various hotels, she claimed.