Over the past two months, the Delhi government and the municipal corporations have come out with stringent guidelines for spas in the city, including the requirement that massage therapists and clients be of the same gender, a move which spa owners and workers termed restrictive and discriminatory.
Civic body officials estimate that there are between 2,000 and 2,400 spas and massage parlours operating across the city, of which only half have licenses while others operate illegally.
Last month, the Association of Wellness Ayurveda and Spa filed a petition in the Delhi High Court against the guidelines, saying they were being harassed for operating cross-gender spas and were being forced to renovate their places to accommodate men and women separately.
The Delhi government told the court that the guidelines are yet to be notified and were not being enforced at present. It also said that no action on the basis of the guidelines will be taken till they are notified in accordance with the law and the clauses are incorporated in the ‘Health Trade Licenses’ issued to the spas under Section 417 of the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, 1957.
The South and East Municipal Corporations, however, have implemented the new license policy with these restrictions, among others.
There are several other provisions like minimum area requirement, CCTV recordings, police verification of the owner and manager of the establishment being made mandatory before issuing the license. There are also provisions for the mandatory production of ID cards of all customers. And rooms in Spa Centres shall have no latches and bolts inside the doors and shall be provided with self-closing doors. External doors shall also be kept open during working hours, reads EDMC policy.
East Delhi mayor Shyam Sundar Aggarwal said that the proposal has been formed after there were several reports of prostitution rackets being run in the garb of massage centres.
This is the same reasoning that the Delhi government had given when it had come out with its guidelines, which were formed in consultation with the Delhi Commission for Women, which also said that in several cases, spas were a front for trafficking.
A senior official of South MCD, however, said that the new guidelines will affect businesses that are not flouting rules. A better policing and intelligence gathering system would have been a better way to stop such acts, the official said.
In court, the Association of Wellness Ayurveda and Spa argued that some of the guidelines were regressive and unreasonable as men and women work together in different workplaces. It added that there are places like gyms and yoga centres where trainers are both male and female who are involved in cross-gender training, adding that spa centres were being defamed as “some kind of prostitution hub or brothels”.
However, the government has also told the court that the decision to issue the guidelines was a well-considered one, and sought time from the court to file an affidavit explaining the reasons which propelled the authorities to issue these guidelines. The court is yet to pronounce its judgment.
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