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SC Questioned Tamil Nadu Government About Necessity of Jallikattu for Preservation of Native Breeds of Bulls

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Supreme Court Law Insider

Akansha Upadhyay

Published on: 02 December 2022 at 20:39 IST

The Supreme Court, hearing a petition challenging a Tamil Nadu law allowing Jallikattu, asked the state government how the sport of bull-taming is necessary for the conservation of the indigenous breed of bulls.

Jallikattu, also known as ‘Eruthazhuvuthal’, is a bull-taming sport played as part of the Pongal harvest festival in Tamil Nadu. A five-judge constitution bench headed by Justice KM Joseph also asked the state whether an animal can be used for entertainment of humans like Jallikattu.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Tamil Nadu, told the top court that Jallikattu is not for entertainment and the person who exhibits his bull shows great care and kindness to the animal.

The bench, also comprising Justices Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy and CT Ravikumar, asked whether animals, for which one is supposed to have “compassion” as a constitutional value, can be treated in such a manner for the entertainment of humans. They further added, such sport should be subjected to and can be allowed by the state based on its perception of cultural rights.

When Sibal said the sport is not about entertainment, the bench shot back, asking “Not entertainment? Then why are people gathering there?” He responded, contending it is to demonstrate the vigour of the bull, how you have brought it up and also how strong it is.

It had earlier dismissed the Tamil Nadu government’s plea seeking review of its 2014 decision to ban the use of bulls for Jallikattu in the state and bullock cart races across India.  Tamil Nadu had amended the central law—the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960—and allowed “Jallikattu” in the southern state.

Some of the petitioners had argued before the apex court that when the law prohibits cruelty to animals, there cannot be an amending Act which perpetuates cruelty.  During the day-long hearing on Thursday, the bench asked, “The controversy is as to how conducting Jallikattu is necessary for the preservation of the indigenous breed.”

”…lay down some principle that if a law contains many preventive measures, but if in real life it is found that these are violated in toto, then would it be open for the court to hold that these prohibitions are unimplementable and the Act remains inherently cruel,” the bench said.

The apex court, which also asked whether animal has personhood, observed that one of the advocates for the petitioners have argued that every animal is entitled to dignity.

The bench said that one cannot say that he will use an animal as a plaything or a toy.  Sibal said that it is everyone’s duty to protect nature in all its forms.  The bench also sought to know about the evidence supporting the claim that it is a cultural practice.

The senior advocate argued the petitioners have contended that the amended law is a “colourable exercise” of power because it perpetuates cruelty but this is a presumption.

On November 24, a constitution bench began hearing petitions challenging Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra laws allowing “Jallikattu” and bullock cart races. The Tamil Nadu government recently told the apex court that “Jallikattu” is a religious and cultural festival that has “religious significance” for the people of the state and does not violate the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960.

In a written submission filed in the apex court, the state said that “Jallikattu” is not just an act of entertainment or fun, but an event with great historical, cultural and religious value.

Furthermore, it was added, “Jallikattu not only preserves the cultural and traditional heritage, but the continuous holding of these events also solves the problem of conservation of an indigenous breed of cattle.”

The apex court is considering five questions referred by a two-judge bench of the apex court in February 2018.

Referring the matter to a five-judge bench, the top court had said that the petitions challenging the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act, 2017 needed to be decided by a larger bench as the matter contains substantial questions related to interpretation of Constitution.