The Supreme Court on Wednesday came down heavily on the Maharashtra government calling its new law prohibiting liquor in dance bars as "absurd" and "absolutely arbitrary" but refused to stay the implementation of the legislation.
The apex court said that the new law meant to regulate the licensing and functioning of dance bars across the state is indicative of the state's mentality which is "absolutely regressive by centuries".
The apex court also allowed three dance bars which were granted licences by the state administration to continue to function under the old rules and directions issued by it from time to time.
A bench of Justices Dipak Misra and C Nagappan, during the brief hearing, questioned certain new provisions of the Maharashtra Prohibition of Obscene Dance in Hotels, Restaurants and Bar Rooms and Protection of Dignity of Women (Working therein) Act, 2016.
The court questioned the provision to ban liquor in the dance bars and asked the government what was the point in banning alcohol in a dance bar.
"Dancers are allowed to dance in dance bars, you (state) take steps to protect their dignity. But a ban on serving liquor will affect their rights. You can ban liquor in a hotel, but dance bars should be barred from such bans," Justice Misra asked the counsel appearing for Maharashtra government, according to The Hindu.
But the government said that a state has an "absolute right" to ban liquor at any spot of its choice within the said state.
"Serving and drinking liquor is not a fundamental right. I have an absolute right to say liquor cannot be served unless you (Supreme Court) take away my right through a judgment," senior advocate Shekhar Naphade, appearing for Maharashtra, said.
"The power of the State to prohibit liquor is absolute. I have powers not only to regulate but also prohibit," he submitted.
The court also questioned the move to install CCTV in the bars.
"How can there be CCTV cameras in the performance areas? Is it not the infringment of right to privacy? We have no objection to installation of CCTV cameras at the entrance of dance bars," the bench said.
Naphade said the police cannot be stripped of its investigating right by not allowing CCTVs in the performance areas of dance bars.
"These are security arrangements and CCTV footage is a crucial evidence. Tomorrow, if anything happens in the dance bars, this CCTV footage will help in investigation. To ensure that regulations are complied with by the dance bars, we need the CCTVs in performance areas," Naphade said.
Senior advocate Jayant Bhushan appearing for Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association (IHRA) said the installation of CCTV in performance areas would have a "chilling effect" and breach the right to privacy as people would refrain from coming to the dance bars.
The bench also prima facie agreed to the contention of Bhushan that the regulation that no liquor can be served in the bar where dance is permitted was absurd and irrational.
"This will be a situation like juice bars. They want no alcohol beverages to be served in a bar. What sort of dance bar it will be where no liquor is served? It will be like juice bars where dance is separated from the bar," Bhushan contended.
One of the other regulation which was strongly contested by IHRA pertained to the mandatory condition that dancers are to be employed by the bar owners.