The fight between dance bar owners and the state government is likely to continue for a while as the Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed the owners to challenge the 37 new conditions they are required to fulfill to get licences. These include a condition that dance bars must be at least a kilometre away from educational or religious institutions, the mandatory installation of CCTV cameras inside bars, a ban on serving alcohol in the performance area, and restrictive timings – 6pm to 11.30pm.
The bar owners urged the Supreme Court to impose a stay on the 37 rules, saying they were impossible to comply with. So strict are the conditions that even though the state government issued conditional licenses to three dance bars two months ago, none of them have been able to reopen yet.
Terming the state government’s new rules ‘arbitrary and discriminatory’, the owners are likely to demand a continuation of the old rules that governed them before the ban.
At the next hearing, scheduled for July 18, the government will try to justify its new conditions.
Bharat Thakur, chairman of the bar wing of the Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association (AHAR), said, “The central government recently decided to allow commercial establishments to operate round the clock, but the Maharashtra government has made it compulsory for dance bars to shut at 11.30pm. This rule is discriminatory and can easily be challenged. Similarly, the ban on serving alcohol in parts of the bar is also arbitrary.”
A legal adviser of the home department said that the condition that makes it mandatory for CCTV cameras to be installed in dance bars could be struck down.
“Soon after the Supreme Court quashed the amendment to the Maharashtra Police Act that banned dance bars, we framed 26 conditions for dance bars seeking licences to fulfill. Installing CCTV cameras inside bars and beaming the live feeds to the nearest police station was one of them. The Supreme Court however criticised the government for this condition. Despite this, we have incorporated it in the new law, but it could easily be challenged in court,” he said.
Home department officials are also wary about the legal standing of the condition that dance bars must be at least a kilometre away from religious and educational institutions, and admit that the government faces an uphill legal battle.