Mumbai: Maharashtra home minister R.R. Patil played a big role in the state government imposing a ban on Mumbai’s dance bars in 2005. Following the Supreme Court’s ruling on Tuesday that the ban was unconstitutional, upholding a 2006 verdict by the Bombay high court, Patil explained his position and future course of action in an interview on Thursday. Edited excerpts:
After defeats in the two courts, are you willing to reconsider your position?
I have the highest regard for the judiciary and I won’t like to comment on the wisdom behind such a decision. But I can only say that the decision (to ban dance bars) was not solely that of R R Patil, but of the entire House (Maharashtra assembly), and the law to ban dance bars was passed unanimously in the best interests of the state. The menace of dance bars had destroyed several families and it had become (a) nuisance to the law and order situation in the state.
The major argument forwarded by those who opposed the ban was that it violates the right to livelihood granted by the Constitution...
By the same logic, people who are engaged in (the) hooch trade will argue (that) if Vijay Mallya can manufacture liquor in this country, why we can’t, and ask for a licence to manufacture hooch. Do you want state governments to give licences to hooch manufacturers also? It is absurd. Though we follow the principle of everyone being equal before the law, it is a guiding principle. It can’t be applied literally everywhere, you have to follow it in spirit. The guiding principles of the Constitution also ask governments to take steps to maintain and enhance dignity of women in our social life and by banning dance bars, I think we had fulfilled our constitutional obligation.
Opposition parties are now alleging that loopholes such as excluding three-star and five-star hotels from the ban were deliberately kept so that law doesn’t stand scrutiny of the courts...
In hindsight, everybody is wise. The law was not drafted by one single officer, but senior officials from the law and judiciary department, home department, and the then advocate general, were involved in drafting the law. No opposition member had, then, drawn our attention to the so-called lacunae in the law during discussion in the assembly.
And let me clarify the misconception that while ordinary dance bars were banned they were running in three-star and five-star hotels. No three-star hotel ever asked for a licence to open a dance bar and though six five-star hotels possessed a licence, not a single one used it.
So what options do you have now?
Senior officials from the law and judiciary and home ministry, along with the advocate general, will study the order and make recommendations to the government. After which, we will have a discussion with the legislators of all major parties and then decide the future course of action. But at this stage, I can say options of filing a review petition and amending the law in a way that it stands scrutiny of courts are open before us. And amending the law also includes option of bringing an ordinance.
The bar girls’ union has alleged that you promised to rehabilitate them once the ban was imposed...
This is a completely false allegation. After the ban was imposed, the women and child development ministry issued full-page advertisements in all leading newspapers asking the bar girls to attend workshops organized by the ministry to apprise them about vocational training courses offered by the state government. Only a few turned up for the workshops, and no one came forward to participate in the vocational training programme.
Ever since the ban was imposed, you had become the media’s whipping boy, especially the English press...
As long as my conscience is clear and I know I acted in the best interest of the state, such criticism doesn’t bother me. And in a democracy, everyone has the right to declare his or her opinion, including myself.