New Delhi/Mumbai: The Supreme Court on Thursday diluted a tough Maharashtra government law that effectively prevented the reopening of dance bars shut since 2005, making it easier for owners to operate and patrons to visit them.

A bench headed by Justice A. K. Sikri upheld the Maharashtra Prohibition of Obscene Dance in Hotels, Restaurants and Bar Rooms and Protection of Dignity of Women (working therein) Act, 2016 but scrapped or diluted many of its provisions.

The court removed the requirement of a partition between the dancing area and the bar/restaurant area and the ban on serving alcohol in the dance area. The requirement of applicants to have “good character" with no history of criminal record was also struck down.

The SC order allows tips for dancers, but prohibits showering money on them. Dance bars can operate between 6pm and 11.30pm. The court also struck down the rule requiring them to install CCTV cameras inside, on the grounds that it violates privacy.

The court mandated written contract with employees, deposit of the remuneration in their bank accounts, and submission of the contract with the licensing authority. The employment need not be monthly, and could be based per performance.

The court also mitigated a condition by which dance bars could not be within 1km of an educational institution or a religious place.

“This amounts to fulfilling an impossible condition and the effect thereof is that, at no place, in Mumbai, licence would be granted. Therefore, this condition is also held to be arbitrary and unreasonable and is quashed, with liberty to the Maharashtra govt to prescribe the distance from educational and religious institutions, which is reasonable and workable," the 100-page order said.

The Dance Bar Girls Association welcomed the verdict, adding the SC had upheld the contractual agreement which was its long-standing demand. “It is a good judgement that would hopefully bring about the much-needed regulation in the industry. We have always fought against exploitation of dancers but banning the activity was never the solution. We now hope this ruling will help bar owners get licences and the dancers would get employment in a much regulated environment," association president Varsha Kale said.

Maharashtra home minister Ranjeet Patil said the ruling was a “mixed verdict which does not reflect the public sentiment in Maharashtra which was against dance bars". The government would give a detailed reaction after studying the verdict and also decide the future course of action, Patil said.

He said the ruling upheld some of the conditions imposed by the government. “The SC has upheld the state government’s condition that there would be no obscenity in the dance bars and that there would a contractual agreement between the bar dancers and owners. Also, the honourable SC has accepted the condition that dance bars must operate between 6pm and 11.30pm," he said.

The ban imposed by the state government was lifted by the apex court in 2014, allowing these bars to get licences. The Maharashtra government framed the restrictive law the next year.

Uday Shetty, who represents the legal wing of the Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association, welcomed the judgement. “Even after the ban was lifted in 2014, the Act introduced by the government made the process to obtain licences very difficult. Between 2016 when the Act was passed and now, only 3 to 4 bars could operate. We welcome the conditions upheld by the SC and we would abide by those," Shetty told Mint.

IHRA, which was one of the petitioners, had claimed the law violated the right to conduct business. It also claimed the law circumvented several orders of the SC, which ruled that bars could host dances, as long as they weren’t obscene. The petition said the new law in effect banned any dance performance, going against the SC ruling of 2014 which said the complete prohibition of dance bars was not valid.

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