Mumbai dance bars to reopen after SC verdict

Mumbai, July 16 (IANS) The city's famous symbol of night life, the dance bars which were shut down in 2005, may come alive again with the Supreme Court Tuesday striking down a ban on them. The Maharashtra government said a panel would study the verdict.

Stunned by the apex court ruling in New Delhi against the forced closure of the bars, the government decided to set up a committee of lawyers, legal experts and legislators to study the verdict before taking appropriate measures.

Home Minister R.R. Patil, facing the opposition ire over the state government's defeat in the apex court, said in the state legislature: "We are waiting for the copy of the Supreme Court judgment."

"We shall set up a panel of lawyers, legal experts and legislators who will study it and submit report," said Patil, who had imposed the controversial ban in 2005.

Patil said as per the committee's suggestion, the government would decide whether to file a review petition, approach a full bench of the apex court or change the existing laws pertaining to dance bars.

An apex court bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice S.S. Nijjar rejected the Maharashtra government's appeal against the Bombay High Court verdict of 2006, striking down police orders banning dance bars.

The apex court upheld the right of bar dancers to pursue their profession subject to the dancing bars taking licence from the state authorities.

Though hoteliers and bar dancers are overjoyed with the apex court verdict, it has evoked sharp reactions from different political parties.

Maharashtra Congress chief Manikrao Thakre said the ban "was a correct decision" and there should be a strong law to ban dance bars for which the state government would take suitable steps.

Nationalist Congress Party state chief Bhaskar Jadhav said people of the state "support the ban on dance bars".

Bharatiya Janata Party state president Devendra Fadnavis said his party was "totally against the culture of dance bars and they must not function".

Declining further comments without studying the details of the apex court judgment, Fadnavis demanded that the government must go in for a review petition or make suitable amendments to the law.

Samajwadi Party state chief Abu Asim Azmi castigated the state government for the setback in the apex court, saying that it "failed to do its homework".

Shiv Sena leader Ramdas Kadam demanded R.R. Patil's resignation on the issue while party spokesperson Neelam Gorhe said that there was no need for dance bars as women were subjected to exploitation in these bars.

The apex court struck down the state government's August 2005 decision to shut down dance bars across the state.

The ban was earlier struck down by the Bombay High Court in 2006, but the state government went in appeal in the Supreme Court which upheld the high court's decision.

One of the groups which had challenged the state government move, The Fight For Rights Bar Owners Association president M.S. Sethi welcomed the apex court judgment.

He said Mumbai police cancelled all licences subject to the outcome of the apex court ruling.

"Now that the Supreme Court ruling has gone in our favour, the police decision stands automatically cancelled. I don't see any reason why we cannot re-start the dance bars from today," Sethi told reporters.

He claimed the state government's regressive decision had pushed many women into prostitution instead of making a dignified living by dancing in the bars and urged the authorities to encourage the business which was a major tourist attraction.

Leader of the bar dancers' association Varsha Kale also welcomed the apex court judgment and said a long struggle had finally ended in the dancers' favour.

"The state government did nothing to rehabilitate the dancers. We welcome the decision," Kale said.

Several former bar dancers who spoke to various reporters welcomed the apex court decision and said that after suffering for eight years, they would now be able to dance and earn a decent living.

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