October,17,2015: Bar dancers in Mumbai and Pune have hailed the Supreme Court's decision to lift a ban on dance bars in Maharashtra. The apex court had stayed a 2014 amendment of Maharashtra Police Act on Thursday and directed state police to ensure that the dignity of women was unaffected when they were performing as dancers.
In July 2013, the Supreme Court had allowed dance bars in Maharashtra to reopen, eight years after they were shut down by the state government. Breathing a sigh of relief, a bar dancer said it was difficult to make two ends meet due to the ban.
Supreme Court had yesterday stayed the 2014 amendment of Maharashtra Police Act which banned dance performances in various places including bars in the state but however gave power to licensing authorities to regulate “indecent” performances to Police.
“Dignity of women should be protected and it was the duty of the state police to ensure that it was done”, said the bench
Some 50,000 to 60,000 women had lost their jobs, as did 40,000 men. Some of the women killed themselves, and 40 per cent were pushed into prostitution, says Anil Gaikwad, legal adviser for Indian Hotel and Restaurant Owners’ Association, citing a government study.
“For ten years in a row, the state lost an annual Rs 3,000 crore that it had earned from dance bars,” says Gaikwad. Praveen Agarwal, general secretary, Bar Owners’ Association, says, “The excise department wrote to the home department on the revenue loss. Nobody can deny that the state stands to gain and so does the industry as the footfall in a dance bar converts into increased consumption and sale of liquor.” An official with the excise department says Rs 9,300 crore was collected from the state in 2012.
Dance bars have been a contentious issue in the state, despite successive governments, cutting across the political divide, branding them as fronts for prostitution.
The law banning dance bars was passed unanimously without a debate in June 2014, after the top court had quashed an earlier law banning dance performances in bars the year before.
The order came on a petition by restaurant owners who challenged the amendment and sought contempt of court action against the Maharashtra government arguing that the state was thwarting the intention of the court.
The court agreed that although it had set aside a similar provision, the law had been brought in a new manner. The court has posted the matter for further hearing on November 6.
There were around 700 dance bars across Maharashtra, which employed more than 75,000 women. They performed Bollywood-style dance routines in bars, receiving cash tips from patrons apart from their salaries.
The petition had questioned the refusal of the licensing authority to let dance bars re-open even after the previous law was held bad by the court.
Last year, ostensibly to nullify the SC ruling that had paved the way for dance bar owners lift their shutters once again, the Congress- led Maharashtra government had cleared an amendment to plug the legal loophole, which had led the court quash the ban in 2013. The state cabinet decided to extend the ban to high-end hotels and private clubs too and the new law will hence affect a total ban on dance bars and dance performances.
In the process, however, the state government has clearly ignored the larger point made by the apex court in its 133-page July 2013 judgement.
While the state government has apparently chosen to drop a provision from the Bombay Police Act, 1951, that allowed dance performances in “exempted” establishments like three-star and five-star hotels but banned it elsewhere, it has failed to address the real issue flagged by the SC.
“A large number of imaginative alternative steps could be taken instead of completely prohibiting dancing if the real concern of the State is the safety of women,” the court had said in its order, while emphasising that the state had failed in establishing that such restrictions would be reasonable or be in the interest of general public.
The SC had added: “It would be more appropriate to bring about measures which should ensure the safety and improve the working conditions of the persons working as bar girls.”
The court had then unequivocally told the Maharashtra government: “In our opinion, in the present case, the restrictions in the nature of prohibition cannot be said to be reasonable, inasmuch as there could be several lesser alternatives available which would have been adequate to ensure safety of women than to completely prohibit dance.”
Wondering why there was a need to have the contentious provisions in the Police Act, the SC had asserted that there were “already sufficient rules and regulations and legislation in place which, if efficiently applied, would control if not eradicate all the dangers to the society,” and “protect the dignity of women.”
The Rules under the Bombay Police Act have been framed in the interest of public safety and social welfare and to safeguard the dignity of women as well as prevent exploitation of women.
Varsha Kale, one of the petitioners in the case, urged the Mahrashtra Government to allow dancing in bars with some restrictions to prevent vulgarity and prostitution. Once a fixture in Bollywood films, dance bars were thought to be meeting points for the Mumbai mafia in the 1980s and 1990s.
Bollywood filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar's 2001 movie 'Chandni Bar' starring actress Tabu, put the spotlight on these dance bars and the people who work there. Bhandarkar said the government should also consider the livelihood of these dancers before taking a decision on the matter. Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has said his government will go in appeal against the Supreme Court stay order on the 2014 amendment to the state police act banning dance performances in bars and some other places.
"Although SC interim order mandates regulation instead of ban on dance bars, Govt still favours ban. We will examine and press our demand in SC," Fadnavis tweeted shortly after the apex court removed the ban and allowed licencing authorities to regulate indecent dance performances. The apex court bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Prafulla C Pant said it is 'appropriate to stay the provision' that prohibits the dance performances and noted the said provision was brought back in the Maharashtra Police Act in 2014 after being held ultra vires in 2013 by the top court.
"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 fixed the petition filed by Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association for final hearing on November 5 adding that a similar matter had already been decided in 2013.
The Maharashtra government had reintroduced the law in 2014 to bypass an SC judgment which had struck down a similar law a year ago. The SC had in April 2013 upheld the right of women bar dancers to follow their profession and dismissed the state government's appeal to ban them.
The court had then questioned why Maharashtra did not find it indecent or derogatory to the dignity of women if they worked as a receptionist, waitress or bartender at such bars and backed the Bombay high court verdict quashing the 2005 ban.
Read Full Text of the Order-