The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Maharashtra government to examine whether it can "modify" certain provisions of the Bombay Police Act to ban only "obscene and objectionable" form of dance in bars, hotels and restaurants.
"We do not want them (dancers) to go from the bars and restaurants to the streets," a three-judge bench of Altamas Kabir, SS Nijjar and Gyan Sudha Mishra observed, while granting the state two weeks time to examine the idea.
The apex court felt that dance by itself cannot be considered as obscene, as banning the activity may render thousands of dancers jobless, thus pushing them to the streets.
"We have children dancing. Couples dancing at different places. There are dance floors. That by itself does not make it obscene or objectionable," the bench remarked, asking ex-Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium appearing for the state to examine whether sections 33, 34 of the Bombay Police Act could be modified to ban only obscene and objectionable dance forms.
The Bombay high court had in 2006 quashed the ban imposed by the Mumbai police under the impugned provisions of the Act on dance shows in bars and restaurants on the ground that they were obscene, titillating and many of the girls were indulging in prostitution.
The apex court had in 2006, admitted the state government's appeal against the high court verdict striking down the legislation as being "unconstitutional".
During Thursday's brief arguments, Subramanium said the ban was imposed to "prevent trafficking and exploitation" of women. He however, offered the government's willingness to discuss the issue with the various stake holders in the dispute for an amicable solution.
Senior counsel Anand Grover, on behalf of organisations espousing the cause of the dancers, said the matter should be disposed off early as it involved the livelihood of over 70,000 dancers.
He denied the allegations that the dancers were engaged in obscene or objectionable dances. On the contrary he said, what they were doing was just a replica of the dance being performed in Hollywood and Bollywood movies.
On April 12, the high court had quashed an amendment to the Bombay Police Act that banned dance bars as "unconstitutional" as it discriminated between dance performances in beer-bars and ordinary eateries — which were banned — and those in theatres, auditoriums and three star and above hotels — which were exempted.
According to the Maharashtra government, the legislation banning dance performances in beer bars was not an overnight decision, but a conscious move, following several complaints that dance bars and certain eateries were operating as prostitution rackets posing law and order problems.
The aggrieved bar and restaurant owners have claimed that after the ban was imposed, 70,000 women have been left jobless.