The state legislative council on Monday cleared the dance bar regulation bill with stringent conditions that will make it difficult for dance bars to operate. The bill is now expected to be cleared by the assembly, paving the way for the reopening of dance bars. The bill also has a provision to repeal amendments to Section 33 (A) of the Maharashtra Police Act that were twice struck down by the Supreme Court.
According to the stringent new conditions, dance bars must be at least a kilometre from any educational or religious institution, restrict their timings to between 6pm and 11.30pm, and not serve liquor in the performance area. The bill also bans bars in the residential buildings and permits them in semi-residential ones only if the three-fourths residents consent.
The Supreme Court, during hearings between October 2015 and March 2016, struck down two amendments through which the state governments banned dance bars. The court, however, clarified that the state government has the power to contain ‘obscenity’ and to safeguard women who work in them. Following this, the state cabinet decided to bring in a new law to regulate dance bars.
The new bill fixes accountability on the owner if rules are violated, if it is found that women are being exploited, or in cases of ‘obscenity’. Owners or operators face up to up to five years in jail and fines of up to Rs 25,000 for violations. Separate rules are being formulated on this, based on the provisions of the bill.
The Indian Hotels and Restaurant Association (AHAR), the apex body of hoteliers, said the new rules are not practical. “We have no option but to go to the Supreme Court,” said Adarsh Shetty, president of AHAR. He said AHAR’s lawyers will study the proposal in detail. Another hotelier, who did not wish to be named, said the rules were framed to ensure that no dance bars are opened. The owner of a prominent restaurant in Lalbaug said, “There are many licences in the names of either wives or mothers of the owners and hence no one will take the risk. Owners say it makes no sense to fight the government.”