Dharmendra Jore Column: Stem the rot before trying yet another dance bar ban

Yet another round of a long-drawn ‘morality versus legality’ bout is expected to be played out very soon, thanks to the state government and dance bar owners, who have won a mandate from the Supreme Court for carrying on with their business. However, the mandate comes with a rider that they must not flout laws. Stung by the unexpected verdict, the government has decided to explore all options, including a plan that will create a situation in which running dance bars will be a hard proposition. The Mantralaya mandarins are working overtime to deflate the euphoria in the dance bar lobby.

According to home department officials, the licensing process, which was frozen a couple of years ago, will be made even more stringent. New rules for timings will be put in place and bar license fees will be increased manifold. Bars will have to have separate enclosures for dance performances and serving alcohol. These are primary thoughts, and they will be fine-tuned with approval from the political bosses, who are also mulling a legislative intervention to extend the ban.

The rich dance bar lobby isn’t expected to relent. After winning a 10-year-old legal battle, it has promised to put forth an equally strong argument in court if the government tries to enforce rules that are framed only with the intention of shuttering their joints. They have argued that nearly 1,500 bars across the state had employed more than 75,000 women dancers before the state first imposed the ban in 2005.

The first ban came on March 31, 2005 when the late RR Patil announced it in response to a demand made by a legislator Vivek Patil, who said that dance bars were a social evil that were destroying hundreds of families. Initially, the ban was restricted to areas excluding Mumbai, but later the city was also included.

The ban did not pass muster either in the Bombay High Court or in the Supreme Court. Over the last one year, the Home department has spent a lot of energy on amending the old law, which was later rejected in court. It has kept hoteliers, who had applied for fresh licences, at bay. As per the apex court’s order, the state will have to issue licences within two weeks’ time.

Did the ban work?
While the government flips through the law books yet again, one cannot challenge either the current dispensation or the earlier Congress- NCP government’s right to extend the ban. But we would like to know from lawmakers and the police whether they have been able to enforce a blanket ban on dance bars. And since we don’t expect any credible answer, we would like to keep the record straight. Even at this point in time, dance bars are doing brisk business in Mumbai, Thane, Bhiwandi and Navi Mumbai. If the powers that be don’t trust our information then they should go on a secret night stroll in south Mumbai to see it for themselves. They will be amazed to find how rules that are applied to bars are flouted to run dance bars.

Is violating the rules possible without a strong nexus between dance bar owners, local politicians and police? No government, which has scored political mileage through moral policing and banning dance bars, has been able to shut dance bars in the past decade.

State authorities who are entrusted with the task of preparing a legal framework for future enforcement need to foresee the disadvantages that will come with any ban. We firmly believe that haphazard, unreasonable and unwarranted rules will induce corruption that will surpass the existing trend of irregularities and also increase the amount of money exchanging hands. Hence, it should be of paramount importance for the government to discipline corrupt police officials and initiate action against politicians who have been supporting this illegal trade. The government should also teach dance bar operators the lesson of their lifetime if they violate laws. The existing Indian Penal Code is sufficient to punish all erring stakeholders.

The judiciary has taken a call after listening to all arguments. Now it’s up to the state government to balance its act.

The writer is Political Editor of mid-day

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