New Delhi: Terming the Maharashtra government's restrictions on dance bars as "regressive by centuries", the Supreme Court on Wednesday said dance bars in the state will continue to operate under the old terms that permitted serving of liquor, and the CCTV cameras kept only at the entrance.
Without putting on hold the new rules that requireinstallation of CCTV cameras in the dance bar area, limit the timing of the dances from 6 p.m. to 11.30 p.m., and prohibit serving of liquor in the bar room where dances are staged, Justice Dipak Misra and Justice C. Nagappan said the "persons granted licence should be allowed to continue under old terms and conditions".
"You ban liquor in the state," the bench said, observing, "By imposing such restrictions you are going regressive by centuries".
The court's scathing observation came as it took exception to the new rules that prohibit serving of liquor at the dance bars.
The court was hearing a plea by Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association (AHAR) for interim relief on the rule that prohibited serving of liquor in the dance area and mandated installation of CCTV cameras at the place of dance.
The condition 12 of the rules regulating the dance bar says, "No alcoholic beverage shall be served in the bar room where dances are staged".
The AHAR has challenged the constitutional validity of the Maharashtra Prohibition of Obscene Dance in Hotels, Restaurants and Bar Rooms and Protection of Dignity of Women (working therein) Act, 2016, and the rules framed under it.
"Somebody has a bar licence and a dance bar. You can't say don't serve liquor. Anybody who has a bar licence, you can't say that you can't serve liquor," Justice Misra told the Maharashtra government.
"You fight for the dignity of women. You protect the dignity of women."
However, senior counsel Shekhar Naphade for the Maharashtra government stood his ground, telling the court: "I have a right to prohibit liquor in the bar and it (right to prohibit liquor) will remain unless it is taken away by the court."
Naphade also defended the new rule that mandates the dance bars to install CCTV in the dance area, saying it was a part of the police power of the state.
"I have a power to regulate and I have a right that my regulations are complied with. The only way I can do it is through CCTV," Naphade told the court, saying that the police cannot have its people everywhere.
An apparently unimpressed bench said: "We understand logically and constitutionally the powers of the police."
The bench asked senior counsel Jayant Bhushan, appearing for the dance bar owners, if they could make some arrangements so as to assist the police if needed.
Bhushan told the court that CCTVs had a "chilling effect" on the people coming to dance bars. "People have some right to privacy."
Challenging the various regulations, the AHAR has contended that the definition of "obscene dance" is so vague that it was capable of being misused. The law says that obscene dance is one "which is designed only to arouse the prurient interest of the audience".
The regulation that a dancer should be in the employment of a particular dance bar only on monthly engagement basis too has been contested on the grounds that it takes away the liberty of a dancer to work at more places than one.
The provisions prohibiting bars within one kilometre of an educational institution or a religious place, providing for three years punishment to the owners of the bar for any obscene dances, too have been assailed.
The 2016 law for regulating dance bars came after the apex court on July 16, 2013, had struck down the restrictions imposed by the State police on the dance performances of any type in an eating house, permit room or beer bar.
The next hearing of the matter would take place on November 23.