The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Maharashtra government to explain why it had not granted licences to even a single dance bar after its many orders, PTI reported. A bench of Justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan said, “It seems like total moral policing is going on in the state.”

The judges said that the definition of obscenity had changed with the times and even live-in relationships were now being accepted in society.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court started its final hearing on petitions challenging a new law, which imposed restrictions on the licensing and functioning of dance bars in the state. The state government had defended the new regulation, saying that such dances “were derogatory to the dignity of women and were likely to deprave, corrupt or injure public morality”.

Lawyers Shekhar Naphade and Nishant R Katneshwarkar, on behalf of the state, said that 81 applicants had applied for licences to run dance bars but none of them had clearances from fire department, among other things. Naphade claimed he had hardly ever seen a restaurant that complied with the fire department’s policies in his three decades in Mumbai.

Naphade said that even in a changing society, traditional families would not allow their children to go to dance bars. The hearing will continue on August 23.

The new law – the Maharashtra Prohibition of Obscene Dance in Hotels, Restaurants and Bar Rooms and Protection of Dignity of Women Act, 2016 – has been challenged by hotel and restaurant owners, bar girls, and others in separate petitions. It came into effect two years after the Supreme Court ruled that dance bars should be allowed and workers there should be treated as professionals. The Act makes it compulsory for dance bar owners to shut shop by 11.30 pm, besides barring them from operating within a one kilometre radius of religious and educational establishments.

The Maharashtra government had imposed a ban on dance bars in 2005, putting as many as 75,000 dancers out of work, allegedly pushing them into prostitution.