Bengaluru: The Supreme Court order last week making it mandatory for Bengaluru restaurants to obtain licences for live band, cabarets or discos has once again brought the focus back on the debate of artistic freedom to perform versus public interest. The apex court while dismissing a petition filed by an association of hotel owners from Karnataka on Thursday upheld a 2005 Bengaluru police order requiring such restaurants to obtain licences.
"It is the prime duty, rather statutory duty, of the Police personnel/administration of every State to maintain and give precedence to the safety and the morality of the people and the State. Indeed, both are important and are at the heart of the doctrine that the welfare of an individual must yield to that of the community. The Act and the Order 2005 are enacted keeping in view the safety and the morality of the people at large," reads the order.
With the city police yet to issue any notices or guidelines regarding the same, the restaurants in question seem to be unclear of the effects of this order.
Some of these restaurants believe they do not come under the purview of this order. "The order is talking about dance bars. We don't come under that and so will not be affected," said the manager of a prominent restaurant in Bengaluru showcasing live bands.
However, the order states, "Live band’ means music, live or recorded, provided at a place of public entertainment, whether or not accompanied by any form of dancing, including cabaret."
"We have not the order yet. Only then can we clarify what does and does not come under its purview," said BK Singh, Additional CP, Law and Order, Bengaluru West.
Since the restaurants have not been under the city police's licensing purview for years now, there is also a lack of clarity on how many such restaurants exist in the city at present. The court order also pointed out the recent Mumbai restaurant tragedy and the 1997 Uphaar theatre tragedy as results of non-compliance to safety guidelines.
The order has been a major cause of worry for the artists who are regularly booked by various restaurants in the city for performances in their premises.
"It is sad. It going to eat into all of our livelihoods. Already culture has gotten affected with all the electronic music. This is going to be another excuse for the government officials to make money. It is going to affect everyone who wants to be an artist," said Eben Johnson from All The Fat Children, a Bengaluru-based rock band.
The licences obtained by such restaurants are, however, valid only for a year and it must be renewed thereafter. The court order clarifies that it is not restricting freedom to perform but only mandating licences for the performances. It also says that no such licence is necessary to conduct art forms such as Yakshagana, Bayalata (field drama), Bharanatyam, Folk art, music recital, vocal or instrumental (veena, mrudangam).