New Delhi, Apr 5 (PTI) The Delhi High Court Tuesday directed the three MCDs to file details regarding the number of spa centres in their jurisdictions and how many of them have valid licences and whether their businesses practices were legitimate.
The high court’s direction came while hearing pleas challenging the ban on cross-gender massage services in the city.
The high court had in December 2021stayed the Delhi Government’s order banning cross-gender massage services.
The high court said though certain status reports have been filed by the three Municipal Corporations of Delhi — East, South, and North, there is no disclosure on the total number of spas operating in their respective areas and how many of them have a valid licence.
“The status reports fall short of explaining further whether the spa centres were conducting businesses as per law and not indulging in illegal activities. These disclosures need to be made by responsible officers of the corporations,” Justice Yashwant Varma said.
The court asked the MCDs to file affidavits in this regard and listed the matter for further hearing on August 30, by then the interim order of December 16, 2021, staying the prohibition on cross gender massage will continue.
During the hearing, counsel for South Delhi Municipal Corporation told the court that in its jurisdiction, 40 spa centres were found to be illegally operating and they have been shut down by the corporation.
However, the court said first the corporations need to find out how many spa centres are operating in their jurisdiction, then figure out how many of them operate with or without licence and whether their business practices are legitimate, legal, or illegal.
While staying the prohibition, the high court had earlier said there was no reasonable connection between the absolute ban and preventing prostitution at spas and had observed that a sudden prohibition would adversely affect those employed in the spa industry and opined that the “cure” has to be proportionate to the problem.
The court had said the respondent authorities ought to have taken measures to regulate spa centres so that such illegal activities are dissuaded, and it prima facie appeared that the policy to ban cross-gender massages was framed without any consultation with professionals involved in spa services.
“… merely because the police and corporations have not been able to take effective steps to ensure that no illegal spas are permitted in the city and ones holding licences do not indulge in any illegal activity, it cannot be a ground (to impose a ban),” the court had opined.
The court had also taken into account a large number of unlicenced spa centres in the city and had directed the three municipal corporations and the Delhi police to carry out an inspection of their respective area, and take appropriate steps for the closure of those functioning without a valid license.
“The fact as emerges from the record is that there are 5,000 spas in the city even though as per the three corporations, only about 400 spas have been issued licences. There is absolutely no justification on part of the police or the corporation in not taking appropriate action against the illegally running spas… (or) suspending the licence of spas against whom FIRs have been registered or those which are openly indulging in illegal activities,” it had added.
The court had issued notice on the petitions by owners of certain spa centres and therapists challenging the Delhi government’s policy guideline prohibiting cross-gender massages and the consequent directions passed by the municipal corporations.
The Delhi government had defended the policy on the ground that the prohibition was introduced after due deliberation and was meant to protect women and children from the menace of prostitution at the spa centres.
Senior advocate Rahul Mehra, appearing for the city government, had said a recommendation was received from the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) which, after extensive research, came to a conclusion that spa centres were being virtually run as prostitution centres.
The senior lawyer had also highlighted that not only were there FIRs against some of the petitioners for indulging in illegal activities but there were also advertisements in “obnoxious language” which indicated the presence of illegal sexual activities.
Lawyers appearing for DCW and the municipal corporations had also defended the ban.
Senior counsel Sachin Dutta, appearing for one of the petitioners, had contended that the fundamental right of the spa owners cannot be taken by executive order and that all spa centres “cannot be painted with the same brush”.
In September last year, one of the petitioners, the Association of Wellness Ayurveda & Spa had told the court that the ban on cross-gender massages was unconstitutional for being in violation of Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution and assuming prostitution to be only in the heterosexual domain is illogical.
The petitioner had claimed that every industry has “some bad apples, but that does not mean that every spa centre across the state is running a prostitution and human trafficking racket”.PTI SKV SKV RKS RKS
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Source: The Print