At the peak of gangland activity in the early 90s,right till the time they were shut down in 2005,the citys numerous dance bars served as vital pools of information on the activities of underworld elements. Several crimes were solved and criminals apprehended on tip-offs cops got at dance bars,police officers recall.
Gangsters and petty criminals would fritter away their their ill-gotten money at dance bars. At the time,there was no better sources of information than the ones in these dance bars. Waiters,bar dancers and even bar owners would provide information to police on underworld elements visiting their establishments, said a senior Maharashtra police officer.
It began slowly,with owners and managers visiting local police stations for permissions or licence renewals or the local crime branch units in case of problems. As they and policemen got acquainted,tip-offs started coming in. Owners and managers have to be observant as they have to keep an eye out for trouble. Due to this reason,whenever a customer was seen splurging significantly more money than usual,they would let us know. Sometimes,this splurging would coincide with the occurrence of a crime involving a large amount of cash,giving us our suspects,and in some cases,our accused, said a former Mumbai Police Crime Branch officer.
The officer recalled that the bar dancers would be less trusting and forthcoming with information,and it would take a lot of time to cultivate them as informants.
Many of the polices other informants were also regular visitors to dance bars and would pick up gossip.
On the flip-side,officers said dance bars often provided cover to criminals on the run. In the past,big criminals and gangsters have taken shelter in dance bars during critical hours of the night,and often carried out their operations from there. Thats why deadlines have to be observed strictly, said former Maharashtra DGP,P S Pasricha,who was the state police chief when the ban came into effect.
Another officer said,It is not as if intelligence gathering took a hit in the years that dance bars were shut,or that there has been a spurt in crime.
Officers,both serving and retired,are divided on whether the return of dance bars would have an adverse effect on crime and policing.
The main concern,officers said,was dance bars that flouted norms would serve as avenues for police corruption. There are vested interests,including in the police department,who want dance bars to return. Policemen and politicians are known to have had stakes in dance bars, said a senior officer.
Another worry is that dance bars might encourage crimes like robberies,dacoities and burglaries. The more serious crimes that could occur are offences like assault and murder. Bar girls have been targeted by obsessive customers.
Another reason for worry,some officers said,is the number of illegal immigrants,particularly from Bangladesh,that the reopening may attract. Illegal immigrants from Bangladesh were just beginning to come to Mumbai posing as West Bengal natives to secure employment when dance bars were shut down. Many later moved to prostitution. Dance bars might suddenly create huge employment opportunities. The sheer number of immigrants arrested and deported every year indicates how easy it has become to slip through the borders, said an officer.
Former Mumbai Police Commissioner Julio Ribeiro said,There is nothing wrong with dance bars,and the police should not bother with the issue of morality. Unless a brothel is being run from a dance bar,and someone is exploiting bar dancers,there is no offence taking place. Dance bars should be allowed to stay open the whole night like establishments in other countries,provided they are not in residential areas.
Because dance bars do not follow rules,corrupt policemen take advantage and demand bribes. If the rules are enforced properly,there would be no scope to do so. It is up to senior police leadership to ensure that such officers are not posted in areas with dance bars, said Ribeiro.
Dance bars are fine as long as they do not degenerate into places of debauchery or become fronts for prostitution. They should operate in conformity with the Bombay Police Act and other laws, said Pasricha.
Police should not bother with enforcing deadlines for dance bars,and should leave it up to other authorities who can revoke licences if necessary. There are other priorities for the police in a city like Mumbai, said a senior officer.