In a big relief to thousands of bar dancers and restaurateurs in Maharashtra, the Supreme Court has paved the way for reopening of dance bars in the state, putting the state government’s ban on hold.
In its order, a division bench of the SC comprising of Justices Dipak Misra and Prafulla Chandra Pant, agreed to put the state government’s ban on hold only on the condition that the performances should not be obscene.
“We think it appropriate to stay the provisions section 33 (A)(1) of the Maharashtra Police (second amendment) Act,” said the bench.
The order came with a strict rider that performances should not even be “remotely expressive of any kind of obscenity.” In its order the apex court gave the licencing authority the power to regulate dance bars and keep a check on obscenity.
“However, we have a rider that no performance of dance will be remotely expressive of any kind of obscenity…the licensing authority can regulate such dance performances so that individual dignity of woman performer is not harmed,” the bench said.
The apex court has now fixed the petition filed by Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association for final hearing on November 5 and said that the matter pertaining to the similar issue had already been decided by this court in 2013.
The Maharashtra government has openly come out and said that they are completely against the possibility of the bars reopening and that it will press for a demand in the SC for the ban to continue.
“Although the Supreme Court’s interim order mandates regulation instead of ban on dance bars, the (state) government still favours a ban,” Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis said in Mumbai after the Supreme Court order.
“We will examine and press our demand in the Supreme Court,” the CM added.
In June 2014, the Maharashtra Assembly passed the Maharashtra Police (second amendment) Bill which prevented licenses for dance performances in three star and five star hotels. The ban also covered drama theatres, cinema halls, auditoriums, sports clubs and gymkhanas, where entry is restricted only to members. This was done without a debate, after the top court had quashed an earlier law banning dance performances in bars the year before.
The 2014 amendment in the Maharashtra Act was challenged by the Indian Hotels and Restaurant Association and others before the apex court. They argued that many of its members would be forced into prostitution if the state refused to allow dance performances.
“The way Maharashtra government had put a blanket ban by sidelining all the rules, we were sure to win and that’s what Supreme Court has upheld our view today,” Indian Hotels and Restaurant Association (AHAR) member Manjit Singh Sethi said.
“The attitude of the government towards us was so biased that when in 2014 the ban was lifted, we applied to renew our license but that too was quashed,” Sethi alleged.
(With inputs from PTI)