The Maharashtra government’s attempt, ostensibly to nullify the ruling that had paved the way for dance bar owners to lift their shutters once again, came under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court Friday. The court agreed to test, yet again, the validity of the state government’s endeavour to implement a total ban on dance bars and dance performances.
A bench led by Justice S J Mukhopadhaya issued notices to the Maharashtra government and others, seeking their explanation as to how the amendment, aimed at plugging the legal loophole which had led the court quash the ban in 2013, did not impinge upon the right to earn livelihood of bar dancers and owners of such establishments.
The court sought replies from all parties within four weeks, as senior counsel Jayant Bhushan urged the bench to examine if the state could have enacted an identical prohibition by way of legislation after the court had already quashed such a provision by its July 2013 judgment.
In this judgment, the court had upheld the right of women bar dancers to follow their profession and dismissed the government’s appeal to ban them. It had directed the government to process licences to run them. Slamming the Maharashtra government for its “elitist” and “discriminatory” attitude, the court had junked the government’s justification to ban dance bars on grounds that they were obscene and acted as pick-up points for vulnerable girls, while allowing such performances at big hotels.
However, the state cabinet, in an apparent endeavour to overcome this obstacle, subsequently decided to extend the ban to high-end hotels and private clubs too. It chose to drop a provision from the Bombay Police Act that allowed dance performances in “exempted” establishments like three-star and five-star hotels but banned it elsewhere.
Bhushan told the bench that the prohibition trampled upon the fundamental right to carry any occupation, trade or business to earn one’s livelihood, although the July 2013 verdict made it clear that the state had failed in establishing that such restrictions would be reasonable or be in the interest of general public.
The Indian Express had on June 14 highlighted how the Maharashtra government cited the Supreme Court to justify its proposal for a blanket ban on dance bars but refrained from unveiling how it’s twisting the ruling and ignoring the key points the court made on women’s rights and their security.
The court had said: “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.” It 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.”