EVEN AS the Supreme Court Wednesday eased certain conditions for dance bars and gave three days to dance bar owners to comply with the modified conditions, the Maharashtra government said it was working on a new legislation to ensure rehabilitation of girls in dance bars, besides incorporating stringent rules to “prevent obscenity in the name of orchestra and dance”.
Legal and constitutional consultations to make the new bill more comprehensive and to plug loopholes are under way, with the state roping in experts from across the state and the Centre. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said, “The state government is contemplating to move a suitable legislation in the Legislative Assembly on a ban on dance bars.”
To ensure that the government does not get into a direct conflict with the ruling of the Supreme Court, the state has decided to take the executive and legislative route to enforce the decision, which has had the support of all political parties.
“The state cannot permit the obscenity it has witnessed in the past in the dance bars. We will approach the Supreme Court with an alternative proposal,” said Fadnavis.
The Supreme Court ruling has come as a setback to the state government. The state had laid down certain guidelines as a pre-condition for issuing licences to dance bars. One of the conditions was to install CCTV cameras in the dance bars, which would be accessed by the police to monitor the dance bars. However, dance bar associations, represented by senior advocate Jayant Bhushan, had objected to CCTVs inside bars.
The apex court Wednesday rejected the condition of streaming live CCTV footage of performances in dance bars to the police. The court allowed installation of CCTV cameras, but only at the entrance and not inside the restaurant or performance areas. A bench comprising Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Shiva Kirti Singh also directed the Maharashtra government to grant licences to owners within 10 days after they comply with the modified guidelines.
Admitting that the Supreme Court’s orders cannot be violated, the government has decided to adopt a two-fold approach. It will make a fresh appeal against the decision, simultaneously bringing in a new law that will have the mandate of the elected members in both the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council.
Government officials said the decision was taken after a public outcry. “Any move to reopen dance bars will defeat the purpose of helping women from being exploited in the name of dance and orchestra. The purpose of the ban was not intended to interfere in anybody’s profession. There are certain guidelines, which we want the dance bars to implement if they wish to carry out the business,” said an official.
A senior officer in the legal department said, “Ever since it came into existence in 2005-06, the dance bar ban has been repeatedly challenged in the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court. Two basic premises which are being challenged are that the ban is discriminatory in nature as it interferes with somebody’s professional freedom and the argument that the dance bars under vigilance was unethical and amounted to moral policing by the state administration.”
On both these accounts, successive governments have pleaded their case before the courts and also undertook course corrections but in vain.
The Congress-NCP combine had twice in the past moved a legislation on a ban on dance bars. The late home minister R R Patil of the NCP had for the first time introduced the legislation in 2005 with the last attempt being made on June 13, 2014 when the Congress-NCP cabinet passed the ordinance on a ban on dance bars. The same day, the bill to amend the Maharashtra Police (Amendment) Bill, 2014 was tabled to abrogate the apex court’s ruling in the state assembly. To override the apex court’s reasoning that it was discriminatory, the new bill extended the ban on dance performances in three and five star hotels. The previous government had also provided an alternative to rehabilitate the dancers in various vocations.
The new legislation may set the stage for a confrontation between the state executive and the judiciary.
Leader of the Opposition in Legislative Assembly Radhakrihna Vikhe-Patil said, “It is a legislation that was adopted through consensus in the Assembly and the Council. Yet, I believe the government should have taken care to address the shortcomings, which allow those challenging the law to have their way.”
A former NCP minister said, “We cannot overlook the interest of the larger public… Even if legally dance bar owners get a reprieve, the government is answerable to the public at large. It will have to find a way out to ensure public welfare at large.”
Appearing for the Maharashtra government in the SC earlier in the day, Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand argued that CCTV cameras needed to be installed in performance areas as well as in restaurants for the safety of bar dancers and to prevent untoward incidents. “Possibility of irregular behaviour will always be there if the CCTV cameras are installed at the lobby or entrance areas and not at the performance area,” the ASG said.
The bench then said the police could deploy its personnel there but no CCTV cameras could be allowed in the performance areas.
The court warned the authorities against deviating from the court directions and asked them to ensure strict compliance with the modified conditions.
It, however, clarified that modified conditions were interim in nature and would be subject to final outcome of the main petition challenging the amendments in the law governing dance bars in the state.
The bench also said permit area or the stage could not be altered without the prior permission of competent statutory authority and posted the matter for further hearing after two weeks.
Earlier, on February 24, the apex court had come down heavily on the Maharashtra government for putting conditions for granting licences to dance bars across the state.
The SC had in November last year too pulled up the Maharashtra government for not complying with its October 15, 2015 order that had asked it to consider granting dance bar licences to hoteliers and had ordered it to process such pleas within two weeks.