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National News
Activists welcome SC verdict on dance bars; Maha govt cautious
(Mumbai, Jan 17,2019):Social activists welcomed the Supreme Court''s verdict which paves the way for reopening of dance bars in Maharashtra, while the state government said it will look out for ''untoward activities'' under the garb of dance bars. Stating that there can be "regulations" but not "total prohibition", the SC Thursday set aside some provisions of a 2016 law imposing restrictions on licensing and functioning of dance bars.

The Bharatiya Bar Girls'' union president Varsha Kale, who has been fighting for the cause of bar dancers, termed the apex court ruling as a great "victory". Kale said over 75,000 women were employed in dance bars when the state government decided to shut them down in 2005 for allegedly promoting obscenity. While over 40,000 women left the profession and took up other jobs for livelihood, around 35,000 were still working as waiters and singers in various hotels, she claimed.

Bureaucrat-turned-activist Abha Singh hailed the apex court''s order as "progressive", and said the state government can regulate dance bars but cannot prohibit them. Manjit Singh Sethi, who spearheaded the fight to reopen dance bars and had moved the Bombay High Court earlier, also welcomed the decision. Several bar dancers were forced to join flesh trade after the state government snatched their means of livelihood, said Sethi, former president of the Dance Bar Owners'' Association.

BJP leader Prem Shukla said the state government will consult legal experts on the SC''s order. The then Congress-NCP government took banned dance bars to safeguard social fabric, he said. The SC has quashed some provisions of the Maharashtra Prohibition of Obscene Dance in Hotels, Restaurants and Bar Rooms and Protection of Dignity of Women (Working therein) Act, 2016, like the mandatory installations of CCTV cameras in the dance bars, saying they violated privacy.

The apex court permitted the dance bars to be located a kilometre away from religious places and educational institutions. It allowed tips to performers but disallowed showering of currency on them. The government will check any "untoward activity" taking place under the garb of dance bars, state home minister Ranjit Patil. "We are committed to abide by the court''s verdict and respect it. Within the ambit of the decision, we will maintain vigilance so that no untoward activities happen under the garb of dance bars," Patil said.

The Supreme Court verdict evoked a mixed reaction from the legal fraternity with some hailing it and others calling it a setback for the state government. A section of lawyers welcomed the judgement and said the SC has drawn a balance between the rights of citizens and duty of the state to govern, while the others said the government''s law imposing restrictions on the licencing and functioning of dance bars should have been upheld in totality.

Senior lawyers opined the apex court has taken a balanced approach towards the issue and ensured the rights of both the government and citizens are not curtailed. The Congress and NCP attributed the SC order to the Devendra Fadnavis-led government''s "nexus" with bar owners. Terming the decision as unfortunate, the parties said the government deliberately presented a pusillanimous position on the issue before the court. The NCP said it would ensure the ban on dance bars returns after it regains power in the state, while the Congress asked the ruling BJP to explain how much election funds it received in this matter. The ban on dance bars in Maharashtra came into effect in 2005.

Then Deputy Chief Minister R R Patil of NCP had initiated the move to ban dance bars. A bill was introduced in the state legislature and was passed unanimously by both the Houses. The Maharashtra Police Act was amended by amending section 33(A)(1), to which the SC had termed claiming it to be against the fundamental rights of the girls working in them discriminatory. The SC struck the amendment down, in October 2015 and then in March 2016 and directed the government to allow the bars to reopen by containing obscenity.

About the objectives and reasons for introducing the bill, Patil, who then held the Home portfolio, had said, "The eating houses or permit rooms or beer bars to which licenses to hold dance performances have been granted, were permitting performances of dances in an indecent, obscene or vulgar manner." Patil, who died in 2015, had said the government felt that such performance in an indecent manner is derogatory to the dignity of women and harmful for public morality.

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