In a major decision that will impact hundreds of establishments and thousands of women who worked in them, the Supreme Court today struck down a decision by the Maharashtra government to ban dance bars.
The ban, enforced by the Maharashtra government in August 2005, was struck down by the Bombay High Court in 2006 but the state government had filed an appeal in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court had ordered that the establishments would remain shut until its final verdict.
The apex court bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice SS Nijjar upheld the right of bar dancers as it rejected the Maharashtra government's plea against the Bombay High Court verdict striking down the police orders that bar dancing in hotels below three stars.
Pronouncing the judgment, Justice Nijjar said that they have not touched the question of the right of the dancing girls under article 19 (A).
The bar dancers had contended that besides being discriminative the police order impinged on their right to livelihood. They had also contended that besides dancing at the bar they knew no other trade to earn their living.
The Supreme Court also vacated its six-year old interim stay on running of dance bars in the state while upholding the high court's verdict.
Lawyer for an organisation representing dance bar girls, Anand Grover, said that the litigation had taken seven years but the women affected by the ban had waited patiently for the verdict.
In its plea, the state government had contended that prostitution rackets were being run under the garb of beer bars and indecent and vulgar performances, "derogatory to society" were taking place.
The government had also contended that while there were only 345 licenced dance bars, about 2500 unlicenced bars were doing business in the state.
On the other hand, various organisations representing dance bars, restaurants and bar girls had argued that the preamble of the Bombay Police (Amendment) Act, 2005, which had been struck down by the high court as unconstitutional, holds that dance performances for public amusement were permissible.
These organisations had also submitted that there were over 70,000 women engaged in dance bars and several of them had already committed suicide due to unemployment and financial crunch.
They had said that with as many as 72 per cent of the bar girls being married and 68 per cent being sole bread earners of their family, the state government's order has rendered them jobless and had been rightly struck down as arbitrary and unconstitutional by the high court.
They had also contended that the impugned section of the Act was arbitrary and discriminatory as it permitted dance performances at places visited by the rich and well-to-do sections of the society while performances in small dance bars had been banned.
A three judge bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir, S S Nijjar and Gyan Sudha Mishra had earlier asked the Maharashtra state government to consider banning only obscene forms of dance in hotels and bars through the Bombay Police Act, the same law that was used to ban all dance bars.
The Maharashtra state government had argued against the opening of the dance bars on the grounds that the ban was imposed to prevent trafficking of women and had even offered to take part in talks with stake holders to arrive at an amicable solution.
However, an organisation representing the dancers had argued that the law should be struck down since the dancers were only emulating moves from Bollywood films and popular culture. The group had also claimed that the lives of 70,000 dancers was at stake.