M A I N   N E W S

Bombay HC lifts ban on dance bars

Mumbai, April 12
In a major embarrassment to the Maharashtra Government, the Bombay High Court today overturned a decision to ban dance bars across the state.

A shocked state government, which pulled the curtain down on this decades-old flourishing trade in August last year, has decided to approach the Supreme Court against the verdict.

A Division Bench comprising Justices F I Rebeillo and R S Dalvi, while lifting the ban, stayed its operation for eight weeks to enable the state government appeal against it in the Supreme Court.

The court also permitted those with valid licenses to resume operations.

The government had in March 2005 announced its decision to shut dance bars on the ground that they promoted prostitution and adversely affected society, especially the youth.

“We had approached the court on the dance bar ban issue with full conviction that justice would be delivered to us. The ban has been lifted,” said Manjit Singh Abrol, spokesperson of Fight for Rights of Bar Owners Association.

“It’s a major victory for us. Our arguments mainly focused on the loss of employment for over 100,000 people, who have been associated with this trade for long, and the discriminatory nature of the ban order,” Abrol said.

The court observed that while dancing at pubs and discotheques was permissible, banning the performance by bar dancers was “discriminatory and in violation of the law.”

The court also directed Mumbai Police to renew licenses of the dance bar owners, which were cancelled, after eight weeks and to take help of various NGOs and SNDT Women’s University to monitor the illegal activities, as alleged by government in these bars.

The court also asked the police to check whether any minor girls were being employed by the bar owners, as alleged by the state, and if any affected minors were found then they should be rehabilitated.

The 274-page order was delivered today in the court packed with dance bar owners, bar dancers, bar employees and mediapersons. The order was passed in response to a number of petitions filed by the dance bar owners, bar dancers, women activists and NGOs challenging the government’s decision to ban dance bars on August 15 last year, following an amendment in the Mumbai Police (amendment) Act. The provision stated that dance performances at any kind of eating house, permit room or beer bar is banned and the violators could be imprisoned up to three years or fined up to Rs 2 lakh.

Lifting the ban brought smiles on the faces of bar owners, who hugged each other outside the court after the order.

The dance bar association’s representative said the owners were expecting immediate relief from the local court as it involved the livelihood of a large number of people.

The Maharashtra state Assembly in July last year unanimously passed a Bill that sought to ban dance bars. The passage of the Bill without major changes had dashed hopes of a rehabilitation package for dance bar girls who were migrating to their home states and were being driven to prostitution.

The dance bar owners had challenged the State Government’s decision on the grounds that the ban was in violation of the Constitutional right to practice any profession, trade or business in any part of the country.

A battery of lawyers comprising V R Manohar, Esspi Chinoy, Anand Grover and Mihir Desai, appearing on behalf of the petitioners, had earlier argued that before imposing the ban, the government had not made any policy for rehabilitation of the bar dancers and bar owners, who had suffered heavy losses.

The state government’s order saw the closure of nearly 1,500 bars in Maharashtra.

“The state was trying to supplant its political agenda with a ban and was shying away from its responsibility of regulating the activity,” senior lawyer, V R Manohar said.

As per the figures presented by senior counsel Aspi Chinoy, not a single license was cancelled in the 2,793 cases, initiated against dance bars by the city police between 2000 and 2005.

The petitioners contended that by banning dance bars and exempting 3-star and 5-star hotels, the Maharashtra government discriminated between two sections of society.

They alleged that this was in blatant disregard to Article 14 of the Constitution, which guarantees equality before law.

Soon after the decision, the bar dancers had joined hands to oppose the ban. Most of them said they had families to feed and this was the only job which paid them enough.

Even several bar dancers, who had been rendered jobless by the Maharashtra government’s ban on dance bars, have committed suicide as they were the only sole breadwinners of their families.

The Maharashtra Government had refused to compensate bar dancers after the ban came into effect.


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