The Maharashtra government's draft law to allow licences for dance bars will be a stringent one that includes a provision for six-months imprisonment and/or a penalty of Rs 50,000 on anyone touching bar dancers or throwing money at them. In a meeting led by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis at Vidhan Bhavan on Tuesday, it was decided that the act would be considered a cognisable and non-bailable offence.
The chief minister has already formed a 25-member committee of all-party MLAs to review the draft of the new legislation. The committee was appointed after the Supreme Court rejected the state’s act to ban dance bars. In the meeting, a few rules were discussed that will be converted into a bill and be tabled in the House during the ongoing Budget Session for final approval.
Once the bill is approved, it will be converted into an Act and will be applicable across the state, said an official. According to the official, installing CCTVs at the entrance of dance bars and on the dance floor will be mandatory. The owner will have to keep the CCTV footage for up to 30 days.
In 2015, the Supreme Court had struck down a total ban on dance bars. While upholding the right of bar dancers to follow their profession, it directed the Maharashtra government to grant licenses to these establishments. The state had imposed a set of 26 conditions before allowing dance bars to operate. These stipulations were challenged by the dance bar association.
The state government, which is keen on ensuring that these bars do not reopen, is working on a legislation to prevent them from reopening. It has announced a committee of legislators from both Houses to finalise the law to work around the judgment. The first meeting of the committee, which was attended by Fadnavis, was held on Tuesday. The proposed bill seeks to maintain the dignity of women working in hotels, restaurants and bars and prevent their exploitation.
Commenting on this development, Varsha Kale from the Bar Girls Association, said that the dance bars in Mumbai will only open in phases and it will take some time before they are back on track. But the current recommendation by committee is very strict, she said. The state government seems determined to impose strict conditions while regulating dance bars in the state, some of which may be impossible to fulfill, she added. We will definitely oppose the guidelines recommended by the committee in the Supreme Court.
"Many women, prior to entering the profession of dancing, worked as domestic servants and agricultural laborers. Due to exploitation faced in other jobs, they came into dancing, exercising the option for safer and more secure work environment," she added.
Incidentally, permit rooms and country liquor bars need to be located at a minimum of 75 metres from educational and religious institutions, while it is 50 metres for beer and wine shops. The draft has suggested that if the bar owner or operator allows a bar dancer to be exploited, he will be penalised Rs 10 lakh or imprisoned for three years or both.
In the new draft, a dance bar will not be allowed to stay open beyond 11.30 pm. Earlier, dance bars were allowed to remain open till 2 am.
It has also been suggested that three women security guards be posted, and women waiters and bar dancers be asked to stay on after 9.30 pm only with their consent. Vulgar dances or actions will not be allowed. The bar dancer will not be allowed to be scantily clad and dance bars will not be permitted within the periphery of one kilometre from educational institutes and places of worship.
If an illegal dance bar is found, the owner or operator will be liable for a fine of Rs 25 lakh and/or imprisonment for five years. The offence will be non-bailable and cognisable. The distance between the dance floor and the seating arrangement should be five feet and no person will be allowed to go to the dance floor, the draft has suggested. People who visit dance bars must be over 25 years and must have valid age and identity proof.
With inputs from agencies