Standards of morality in society changes with time, says SC as it allows dance bars in Maharashtra

The top court quashed several provisions of the Maharashtra Prohibition of Obscene Dance in Hotels, Restaurant and Bar Rooms and Protection of Dignity of Women (working therein) Act, 2016.

Published: 17th January 2019 10:38 PM  |   Last Updated: 17th January 2019 10:38 PM   |  A+A-

bars, dance bars

Image used for representational purpose (Photo | EPS)

By PTI

NEW DELHI: Standards of morality in a society changes with time, the Supreme Court said Thursday while setting aside certain provisions of a 2016 Maharashtra law which restricted licensing and functioning of dance bars in the state.

The top court, which paved the way for grant of licences and re-opening of dance bars in Maharashtra, said the state can neither exercise "social control" with its own "notion of morality" nor take exception to staging dance performances per se.

"It needs to be borne in mind that there may be certain activities which the society perceives as immoral per se. It may include gambling (though that is also becoming a debatable issue now), prostitution etc. It is also to be noted that standards of morality in a society change with the passage of time," said a bench of Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan.

The top court quashed several provisions of the Maharashtra Prohibition of Obscene Dance in Hotels, Restaurant and Bar Rooms and Protection of Dignity of Women (working therein) Act, 2016, including installation of CCTV cameras in dance bars, saying it was "totally inappropriate and amounts to invasion of privacy".

The court said a particular activity, which was treated as immoral few decades ago, may not be so now as societal norms keep changing with time.

"Social change is of two types, continuous or evolutionary and discontinuous or revolutionary. The most common form of change is continuous. This day-to-day incremental change is a subtle, but dynamic, factor in social analysis," the bench said.

The court said it cannot be denied that dance performances, in dignified forms, are socially acceptable and nobody takes exceptions to it.

It said since obscenity is treated as immoral, therefore obscene dance performance may not be acceptable and the state can pass a law prohibiting such dances.

However, it observed that "a practice which may not be immoral by societal standards cannot be thrusted upon the society as immoral by the state with its own notion of morality and thereby exercise social control".

"It appears from the history of legislative amendments made from time to time that the respondents (Maharashtra and others) have somehow developed the notion that such performances in the dance bars do not have moralistic basis," the court said in its judgement.

It said that many conditions stipulated for obtaining the licence were virtually impossible to perform.

"It is this reason that not a single establishment has been issued licence under the impugned Act even when it was passed in the year 2014. In fact, after the amendment in Maharashtra Police Act in 2005, no licences have been granted for dance bars," the bench said.

The court said though the 2016 Act appeared to be regulatory in nature, the real consequences and effect was to prohibit such dance bars.

"The state, thereby, is aiming to achieve something indirectly which it could not do directly. Such a situation is beyond comprehension and cannot be countenanced," the court said.

"We have quashed those provisions of the Act and the Rules which we have found as unreasonable and unconstitutional. We hope that applications for grant of licence shall now be considered more objectively and with open mind so that there is no complete ban on staging dance performances at designated places prescribed in the Act," it said.

The court delivered the verdict on petitions filed by an association of various hotel owners and bar owners, R R Patil Foundation and Bhartiya Bargirls Union, challenging certain provisions of the 2016 Act and the Rules.

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