A provision of a new Maharashtra Act to regulate obscene dance performances and prohibiting showering of money at dancers today found favour with the Supreme Court, which said the law respected "the dignity of woman and dignify decency and culture".
A bench of Justices Dipak Misra and C Nagappan, however, issued notice to the state government on a batch of petitions including one filed by Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association (IHRA) challenging the constitutional validity of certain provisions of the Maharashtra Prohibition of Obscene Dance in Hotels, Restaurants and Bar Rooms and Protection of Dignity of Women (Working therein) Act, 2016.
Refusing to accept showering of currency notes on women dancers as tip, the bench said, "this provision shows respect for women. This dignifies decency and culture".
The bench distinguished between throwing money in cinema halls with showering of notes on women dancers at the bars. "This is not the silver screen where you throw money. They are performers and there is certain dignity attached to them."
Senior advocate Jayant Bhushan appearing for IHRA said the Act allows giving financial reward to singers but strangely prohibited the same for dancers.
"Handing over currency to dancers for their performances is just like giving a tip. This is allowed for singers and prohibited for the dancers," Bhushan argued.
The bench rejected the vehement contention of senior advocate Shekhar Naphade, representing Maharashtra, that the plea should not be entertained by the apex court and sent to the Bombay High Court for adjudication.
During the brief hearing, the counsel for various hotels and dance bars objected to several provisions of the new law, including installation of CCTV cameras near performance areas.
Bhushan termed as unconstitutional the provision which requires that no drinks would be served at a place where dancers would be performing in the bar.
He also objected to a clause where bars are required to employ the dancers, saying a performer cannot be restrained from choosing places where she can perform.
"Why should a woman be forced to be employed. They are professionals. They are performers and can give their performances at any place of their choice," Bhushan said.
Maharashtra government vehemently opposed the contention,
asking if law officers, doctors and architects can be employed by state and other agencies, "why can't the dancers be employed?"
Bhushan was critical of the definition of obscene dance under the new Act and said the term - something designed to arouse purient desire in audience - was vague and deserved quashed on this ground alone.
The bench, which was critical of certain provisions of the Act, agreed to examine them saying that the 2013 judgement and subsequent directions passed by it would form a basis to test the constitutional validity of the new law.
The apex court asked Maharashtra to respond to the petitions within six weeks. It also granted two weeks to the state to respond to the prayer for interim relief against certain guidelines like mandatory installation of CCTV cameras near performance areas in dance bars.
The petition claimed that the Maharashtra Act violated the fundamental rights of hotel and bar owners and sought the court's direction to declare it unconstitutional, invalid, void and unenforceable.
"The result of the impugned Act and Rules made thereunder is that under the garb of regulation, it literally results in banning of performance of dance of any kind or type in an eating house, permit room or beer bar. The ban has been held to be unconstitutional by both the high court and this court vide its judgment...," said the plea filed by IHAR.
It also said members of the IHAR have all the requisite permissions and licences for running bars and restaurants and comply with the conditions for running such establishments including conditions for serving alcohol.
The plea said the artistes performing in places of public entertainment are qualified and talented and entitled to practice their profession which is their fundamental right.
The apex court had earlier rapped the Maharashtra government for not granting licences to dance bars on account of non-compliance of some conditions and said it was better for women to perform then begging on streets or doing something "unacceptable" for earning livelihood.
(With PTI inputs)