NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to stay the operation of a new law meant to regulate the licensing and functioning of dance bars across the state and questioned some of its provisions.
The apex court, allowed three dance bars which were granted licences by the state administration to continue to function under the old rules and directions issued by it from time to time.
The court termed the new Maharshtra law prohibiting liquor in dance bars as absurd, absolutely arbitrary and indicative of the State’s mentality which is absolutely regressive. But the Maharashtra government argued that a State has the absolute right to ban liquor at any spot of its choice within the state.
“Serving and drinking liquor is not a fundamental right. I have an absolute right to say liquor cannot be served unless you (Supreme Court) take away my right through a judgment,” Maharshtra counsel and senior advocate Shekhar Naphade said.
On this, a Bench of Justice Dipak Misra and C Nagappan said, “Dancers are allowed to dance in dance bars, you (State) take steps to protect their dignity. But a ban on serving liquor will affect their rights. You can ban liquor in a hotel, but dance bars should be barred from such bans.”
“How can there be CCTV cameras in performance areas? Is it not the infringment of right to privacy? We have no objection to the installation of CCTV cameras at the entrance of dance bars,” the bench said.
Senior advocate Shekhar Naphade, appearing for Maharashtra, said the police cannot be stripped of its investigating right. “These are security arrangements and CCTV footage is a crucial evidence. Tomorrow, if anything happens in the dance bars, this CCTV footage will help in investigation. To ensure that regulations are complied with by the bars, we need the CCTVs in performance areas,” Naphade said.
Senior advocate Jayant Bhushan appearing for Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association (IHRA) said the installation of CCTV in performance areas would have a chilling effect and breach the right to privacy as people would refrain from coming to the dance bars.
To this, the bench asked the counsel for IHRA to see whether any arrangement could be made that CCTV footage is stored for 30 days without showing the visuals to anyone. However, later the bench said it would look into the issue during the hearing and posted the matter for November 23.The bar owners also objected to several other conditions of the new law alleging that “back-door efforts” were being made to make them unable to function.
The apex court had earlier rapped the Maharashtra government for not granting licences to dance bars on account of non-compliance of some conditions and said it was better for women to perform than begging on streets or doing something “unacceptable” to earn a livelihood.