The Supreme Court today directed the Mumbai police to issue licenses to those willing to reopen dance bars across the states within ten days and scrapped the conditions in the new rules which mandated erecting of a three feet wall around the dance stage and installation of CCTV cameras at all points including over the performing area for giving live feeds to the nearest police control room.
Nudged by the apex court, the Maharashtra police changed the condition of erecting walls to installation of just a railing around the stage.
A bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra also allowed CCTVs only at the entrance and all other places except the performing area, restaurant and drinking area. The bench also persuaded the police to allow the bars to allow more than four dancers to perform. While only four can perform at a time, others have been allowed to wait in the green room awaiting their turn.
"Dance Bar owners are to comply with the condition within three days after which licenses are to be issue within further ten days. We are certain that now the competent authorities will not impose new conditions to stall grant of licence. They shall act in accordance with law and not venture to deviate (from the court order)”, said the bench.
The court had on February 24 asked the Maharashtra government to file its response on several objections raised by Hotels, restaurants and Dance bar owners in the new license policy brought in by police.
The bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra itself felt many of the conditions were “irrational and obnoxious”. It is to be noted that the state government was in October last year ordered to lift the ban on dance bars but asked to crack down on “obscene” performances.
The bar owners who moved the court through senior lawyer Jayant Bhushan primarily objected to condition which made it mandatory to construct a 3-feet permanent boundary wall around the 10 ft x 12 ft stage which has been permitted and the condition to install CCTVs at places in the bar which will give continuous live feed to nearest police station . ”The cameras be installed to cover the entire premises which will record the entire daily performance and the same will be monitored by a specially appointed person on a monitor/ display.
The daily recording of performance of last 30 days would be preserved and will be made available to any competent authority as and when required for viewing”, said the condition. Another condition was a non-transparent partition between the eating and drinking area and the dance stage. Also, only four bar girls can dance at a time.
The other most controversial among the conditions was that the bars are to ensure adequate CCTV cameras which will “live feed continuously” to the nearest police control room.
“CCTV invade a patron’s right to privacy. We do not mind you installing the cameras at certain spots where there could be security issues, but we object to the entire place being under the camera’s gaze”, the judges had said
“And why the stage should be covered from all sides? Why there should a non-transparent partition between dance area and restaurant area? Any art bereft of obscenity should be enjoyed”, said the judges.
It was on October 16, 2015 that the apex court lifted the ban which had driven a large number of women employed there into prostitution. However, it also gave the authorities full power to crack down on “indecent” and “obscene” performances.
The court had put on hold a controversial amendment brought in the Maharashtra Police Act by inserting a Section – 33A – to close down such places, holding that the government had brought back in a different form a provision which was scrapped by the court in 2013 Dance bars have been a contentious issue in the state, despite successive governments, cutting across the political divide, branding them as fronts for prostitution.
The law banning dance bars was passed unanimously without a debate in June 2014, after the top court had quashed an earlier law banning dance performances in bars the year before.
The order came on a petition by restaurant owners who challenged the amendment and sought contempt of court action against the Maharashtra government arguing that the state was thwarting the intention of the court. The court agreed that though it had set aside a similar provision, the law had been brought in a new manner.
The court has posted the matter for further hearing on November 6. Last year, ostensibly to nullify the SC ruling that had paved the way for dance bar owners lift their shutters once again, the Congress-led Maharashtra government had cleared an amendment to plug the legal loophole, which had led the court quash the ban in 2013.
Read the order here.