While the demonetisation process, and the resultant liquidity crunch, has hit business across sectors, a deluge of applications for dance bar licences has stumped the Mumbai police. This is in view of the fact that traditionally business in dance bars is conducted in cash, which has become scarce on account of the prevailing curb on withdrawals.
At the last count (till Tuesday), Mumbai police headquarters (HQ II), which is the licensing authority for dance bars, had received 64 applications, even as industry sources claimed that an equal number of fresh applications are going to be made in the next couple of weeks.
This is in sharp contrast with the 34 applications the police had received till May last year, of which just three were approved. On November 24 last year, the Supreme Court (SC), in an interim order, had asked the state government to approve applications for restarting dance bars. In the first week following the order, the police had received 10 applications, which were from among those who had been rejected earlier. The number of applications in the corresponding weeks fell drastically as liquidity crunch started affecting business across sectors.
Sources in the HQ II said that after a lull for about three weeks, applications started flooding in the last week of December as markets showed signs of revival.
“We are hopeful that conditions will improve in the next 2-3 months, after the government releases enough cash. We are in no hurry to start business after getting licences. It’s a wait and see situation for time being,” said Bharat Singh Thakur, owner of Uma Palace bar and restaurant at Mulund, who had applied for renewal of his dance bar licence a week after the SC order.
“Lot of dance bar owners who had surrendered licences following the 2005 ban, or those who had converted into orchestra bars are in queue seeking fresh licences,” Thakur added.
Prior to the 2005 ban, there were around 250 dance bars operating in Mumbai. However, following the ban, many of them shut shop while the rest converted to orchestra bars or bar and restaurants.
Meanwhile, a senior official in the HQ II admitted that the sudden rush of applications has come as a surprise for the department . “The premises licence fees for dance bars has increased to Rs2 lakh from the earlier Rs2,000 per annum. Moreover, several curbs have been put on their functioning as per the new regulations. In the prevailing cash crunch, how are they going to run the business?” the officer said.
Deputy commissioner of police (DCP) HQ II, Pradip Sawant, said the applications have been sent to senior police inspectors at the respective police station (where the dance bars are located) to file compliance report following inspection of the premises. “Only after the receipt of the report a survey would be conducted by the HQ II before a dance bar is deemed fit for a licence,” Sawant said.
The police have made it clear that the dance bars would be required to follow the deadline of 11.30pm till the Supreme Court gives its verdict on the petition filed by the Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association (AHAR) against the conditional functioning of the dance bars, including timings, on January 11.
In May this year, the Mumbai police had given licence to Aero Punjab and Sai Prasad bars at Andheri and Indiana bar at Tardeo with conditions that they would adhere to the rules laid down in the license. In July, AHAR challenged the 37 new conditions the dance bars were required to fulfil to get licences. So strict were the conditions, the petition alleged saying that even two months after the state government issued licenses to the three dance bars, none of them were able to reopen.
Those conditions included mandatory installation of CCTV cameras within the dance bar, their locations must be at least a kilometre away from educational or religious institutions, a ban on serving alcohol in the performance area and restrictive timings – 6pm to 11.30pm.
In September the court while upholding AHAR’s contention had stated that the bars would operate under the old terms and conditions that allowed CCTV cameras in the entrance and serving liquor in the permit room where the dance is performed.