High Court quashes ban on dance bars

Staff Reporter

Time to re-issue cancelled licences

State Government can appeal against the order if it wants to Exempting few establishments from Act irked the Bench

MUMBAI: The Bombay High Court on Wednesday set aside the law banning dance bars in Mumbai, enacted by the State Government on August 15, 2005. The court has given eight weeks time, during which the cancelled licences of the dance bars can be re-issued. It has also given the State Government time to appeal against the order if it wishes to.

Justice F. I. Rebello and Justice R. S. Dalvi were hearing petitions filed by the Association of Hotels and Restaurants (AHAR), Bhartiya Bar Girls Union, and NGOs like Forum Against Oppression of Women and Majlis. The legal distinction between "prohibited establishments" and "exempted establishments" drew criticism from the Bench. According to the Act, the Government prohibited performance of any kind in an "eating-house, permit room or beer bar." However, provisions were made to exempt performances in "theatres, registered sports clubs, three starred hotels and above" or any other establishment which the State Government deemed to be significant for tourism promotion.

The Bench noted that "... Considering that the object of the legislation is to prevent dances that are obsceneand hence derogatory to women's dignity, and to prevent exploitation of women, we find there is no nexus between the classification and the object of the Act... If women, other than as dancers, can work in prohibited establishments and that does not amount to exploitation, we do not see how it becomes exploitation when women dance to earn their livelihood." Referring to Article 19 (6) of the Constitution, the High Court said the amendment was a restriction that "prevents bar owners from organising the same or similar dances as in the exempted establishments and bar dancers from performing dances other than those which are restricted." The Bench held that such a restriction was "unreasonable, not in public interest and consequently void."

Referring to studies by NGO Prayas of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and Research Centre for Women's Studies at SNDT University, Justice Dalvi said a small percentage of bar dancers were minors. "Though the State has not shown actual trafficking of these children, if any are indeed found serving in dance bars, it would be in a place undesirable and unsuitable to their age."

The judge directed the two NGOs to hold inquiries and said: "In case of illegal employment of a minor in a dance bar, the matter must be reported to a police station for action against the bar owner and to rescue and rehabilitate those children."

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