New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear a petition from the Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association (IHRA) challenging the Maharashtra government’s recent law prohibiting dances in hotels, restaurants and bars.

The Maharashtra government passed the Maharashtra Prohibition of Obscene Dance in Hotels, Restaurants and Bar Rooms and Protection of Dignity of Women (working therein) Act, 2016 (and separate rules) earlier this year.

The petitioner, IHRA, claimed that the law was constitutionally flawed as it violated fundamental rights of the bars to conduct their business.

The association also claimed that the law circumvented several orders of the Supreme Court, which ruled that bars could host dances, as long as they weren’t obscene. The petition said that the new law in effect banned any dance performance, going against the apex court ruling of 2013 which said that complete prohibition of dance bars was not valid.

A bench comprising justices Dipak Misra and C. Nagappan issued notice to the Maharashtra government for its response. The court rejected the argument from Shekhar Naphade, lawyer for the Maharashtra government, that the petition should be sent to the Bombay high court rather than being heard in the apex court.

The court will hear the case on 21 September to consider the petitioner’s plea to stay the operation of the law.

Lawyer Jayant Bhushan, representing the IHRA, took the court through the provisions of the law. He argued that the definition of obscene dances was vague and fell foul of the apex court’s ruling in the 2015 Shreya Singhal versus Union of India case, which said that no criminal action could be taken based on a vague definition.

In the Shreya Singhal case, the apex court had found Section 66A of the Information Technology Act to be unconstitutional as it was vaguely defined and open-ended.

Some of the other provisions that were challenged include the ban on passing on any currency, coins or money to the dancers, placing a non-transparent partition between the dancers and the bar area, ban on serving alcohol in the dance stage area, closing of dance bars by 11.30pm, and the condition that the dancers be contractually employed with a monthly salary.

The association also challenged the conditions mandated by the Maharashtra government, which includes placing CCTV cameras in all public spaces of bars and restaurants. The Supreme Court earlier rejected placing CCTV cameras in dance bars.

Justice Misra said that there was nothing wrong with prohibiting the giving of money to the dancers. “The provision shows respect for women. The issue is not whether she minds or not, (the issue is) that (giving money) is in a way affecting someone’s dignified culture and decency," he said.

Lawyer Rajeev Dhavan, representing an association of bar dancers, said that the group was also going to file a writ petition against the law.

The Supreme Court lifted the ban on dance bars last year and paved the way for these bars to get licences with the caveat that as the dances could not be obscene.

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