NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Thursday relaxed the Maharashtra government’s tough rules which banned dance in bars, and said that liquor and dance could co-exist, but with riders. The order paved the way for bars to re-employ thousands of dance girls, who had been deprived of their livelihood since 2005. Noting that no dance bar licence has been given since 2005, the apex court said, Maharashtra “can’t just ban dance bars by trying to regulate them”.
A bench of Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan in their 100-page order said, “A practice which may not be immoral by societal standards cannot be thrust upon the society as immoral by the State with its own notion of morality...” In 2015, the SC had lifted the ban and paved the way for these bars to secure licences with the caveat that the performances could not be obscene. But according to a batch of pleas by restaurant and hotel owners, Maharashtra’s 2016 law had, in effect, banned dance performance in bars.
The top court set aside the condition that only persons of good character would be allowed to run dance bars, saying the term “good character” is too vague. The rule requiring a partition between bar rooms and the dance floor was also cancelled.
The SC also struck down the state’s restriction on dance bars within one-km radius of educational institutions and religious places. The bar owners had argued this was not geographically possible in a densely populated city like Mumbai.
However, the SC allowed bar on customers from showering money at the dancers. It also upheld the condition that dance bars should operate only between 6 pm and 11.30 pm.
The judgment came on petitions filed by women working in bars, including dancers and waitresses, against the constitutionality of the 2016 state law.
“Our main intention was to protect the bar girls and that has been upheld by the court. Whoever fulfills the conditions, will be given licences,” said Nishant Katneshwarkar, the state government’s counsel.