Dance bars: SC asks Maharashtra to decide in 2 weeks on licence

The Supreme Court raised questions over the Maharashtra government's laws banning dance bars.

Dance bars: SC asks Maharashtra to decide in 2 weeks on licence

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday pulled up the Maharashtra government for not complying with its earlier order asking it to consider granting licenses of dance bars to hoteliers and ordered it to now process such pleas within two weeks.

A bench of justices Dipak Misra and PC Pant, while expressing unhappiness on non-implementation of its October 15 interim order, said the hoteliers will also have to comply with the rules.

"We remind that the state is obliged by law to enforce the order without any deviation. The order passed by the court has to be respected... Issue licenses to bars in two weeks," the bench said.

The court also raised questions over the state government laws banning dance bars and said as to "how individual morality, perceptive morality and selective morality can merge into collective and legal morality."

It, meanwhile, allowed Vinod Patil, the president of RR Patil Foundation, to intervene in the matter. Patil had in his plea claimed that re-opening of dance bars would increase crime.

Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Maharashtra, however, said that any direction of the court will be respected and adhered to.

"The bars were a great draw among the youth and drinking heavily and watching dance was completely unacceptable to the state," he contended.

Besides the youth going astray, Salve further said that the reopening of dance bars could also result in increase of crime and prostitution across the state.

He said that the state government banned dance bars after noticing the negative impact on youngsters who indulged in selling their ancestral properties, getting astounding prices and showering money in dance bars.

But the bench, asking the government to issue licenses to bars to host dance performances within two weeks, maintained that people have a right to carry out a profession so long as they perform it within acceptable parameters.

"There cannot be any prohibition... Women who have got distinction in a particular type of dance cannot be deprived of adopting it as their profession," the judge said. The court further said that dance is a respectable concept in India, many form. Now if that form is maintained, why don't you (state) permit them?

On October 15, the apex court had stayed the operation of 2014 amendment in the Maharashtra Police Act that had banned dance performances at bars and some other places, paving the way for reopening of dance bars across the state.

The order had come on a petition filed by Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association which challenged the amendment and sought contempt of court action against Maharashtra government.

The court had noted that the provision was brought back in Maharashtra Police Act in 2014 after being held ultra vires in 2013 by the top court.

Maharashtra government had brought an amendment in 2005 -- Bombay Police Act -- which was challenged in high court by an Association representing restaurants and bars.

The Bombay High Court had on April 12, 2006 quashed the government's decision and declared the provision as unconstitutional saying that it is against Article 19(1)(g) (to practise any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business) of the Constitution.

However, the state government had moved the apex court against the high court's order that same year.

On July 16, 2013, the Supreme Court upheld the Bombay High Court verdict quashing the state government's order and had said that the ban violated the constitutional right to earn a living.

The state assembly however, on June 13, 2014, passed the Maharashtra Police (second amendment) Bill which prevented licenses for dance performances in three star and five star hotels.

The ban also covered drama theaters, cinema halls, auditoriums, sports clubs and gymkhanas, where entry is restricted only to members.

The 2014 amendment in the Maharashtra Act was challenged by Indian Hotels and Restaurant Association and others before the apex court.

Nearly 1,500 bars across the state had employed more than 75,000 women dancers before the state government first imposed the ban in 2005.  

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