The Supreme Court on Thursday set aside certain provisions of a law imposing restrictions on the licensing and functioning of dance bars in Maharashtra. Modifying some of the provisions of the state law – the Maharashtra Prohibition of Obscene Dance in Hotels, Restaurants and Bar Rooms and Protection of Dignity of Women (Working therein) Act, 2016 – the apex court permitted the bars to function from 6 pm to 11:30 pm and also allowed sale of liquor in the premises.
On August 15, 2005, the Maharashtra government had banned all dance bars in Mumbai to “prevent immoral activities, trafficking of women and to ensure the safety of women in general”. As many as 700 dance bars across Mumbai and Maharashtra were shut down. The ban also pushed nearly 70,000 bar girls out of jobs, reportedly forcing many into prostitution.
The state government’s ban was challenged in the Bombay High Court in 2006 on grounds that it was in violation of Articles 14 and 19(1)(g) of the Constitution, which guarantee the right to equality and the right to practice any profession respectively. The court ruled that the ban infringed both of these rights and overturned it.
Upholding the Bombay High Court’s verdict in the same year, the Supreme Court ruled that the ban was unconstitutional and decided to hear the matter later.
Despite the SC verdict, the Maharashtra government refused to overturn the ban. In 2014, it amended Section 33A of the Maharashtra Police Act and imposed a total ban on dance bars on the argument that the bars were obscene and acted as pick-up points for vulnerable girls.
The Dance Bar Regulation Bill, which was unanimously passed by the Assembly on April 13, 2014 among other things, in the same year, prohibited sale of liquor in performance areas and mandated that the premises be shut by 11.30 pm. It also imposed heavy penalties on dance bar owners and customers for not following these rules.
“It was observed that such dances were derogatory to the dignity of women and were likely to deprave, corrupt or injure public morality. It was also brought to the notice of the state government that the places where such dances were staged were used as places for immoral activities and also as a place for solicitation for the purpose of prostitution,” a government’s affidavit to the court read.
A petition was filed by the Indian Hotel and Restaurants Association among others, pleading the court to declare as unconstitutional the amended Section 33A.
Suspending the provision, the top court in 2015 directed the administration to issue licenses to dance bars. Suspending the 2014 amendment, the top court noted that the state government had re-enacted legislation similar to 2013 despite it having been struck down.
The top court today modified several provisions in the law. While it set aside the condition to install CCTV cameras in the bars on grounds of privacy, it prohibited showering of currency notes on the dancers. Payment of tips to the performers is allowed, the court said.
The bench also quashed the provision mandating that dance bars in the state should be located at least one kilometre away from religious places and educational institutes.