SC upholds validity of Tamil Nadu law allowing bull-taming sport ‘Jallikattu’

 The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the validity of amendment Acts of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Karnataka which allowed bull-taming sport “Jallikattu”, bullock-cart races and buffalo racing sport “Kambala” respectively.

A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Justice K M Joseph, which delivered a unanimous verdict, dealt with five questions referred to it by a two-judge bench of the apex court in 2018.

“Jallikattu”, also known “eruthazhuvuthal”, is a bull-taming sport played in Tamil Nadu as part of the Pongal harvest festival.

The “Kambala” race, held in the state of Karnataka between November and March, involves a pair of buffaloes tied to a plough and anchored by one person. They are made to run in parallel muddy tracks in a competition in which the fastest team wins.

“Our decision on the Tamil Nadu Amendment Act would also guide the Maharashtra and Karnataka Amendment Acts and we find all the three amendment Acts to be valid legislations,” said the bench, also comprising justices Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy and C T Ravikumar.

The bench delivered its verdict on a batch of pleas which had challenged the Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Karnataka amendment laws allowing “Jallikattu”, bullock-cart races and “Kambala”.

Reading out the operative portion of the judgement, Justice Bose said that law contained in these Acts, rules and notifications shall be strictly enforced by the authorities.

“In particular, we direct that the district magistrates/competent authorities shall be responsible for ensuring strict compliance of the law as amendment along with rules/notifications,” the bench said.

“The Tamil Nadu Amendment Act is not a piece of colourable legislation. It relates in pith and substance to Entry 17 of List III of Seventh schedule to the Constitution of India,” the apex court said, adding, it minimises cruelty to animals in the concerned sports.

The bench said “Jallikattu” is a type of bovine sports and it is satisfied on the basis of materials disclosed before the court that it is going on in Tamil Nadu for at least last few centuries.

“But whether this has become integral part of Tamil culture or not requires religious, cultural and social analysis in greater detail, which in our opinion is an exercise that can’t be undertaken by the judiciary,” it said.

“The question as to whether the Tamil Nadu Amendment Act is to preserve the cultural heritage of a particular state is a debatable issue which has to be concluded in the house of the people,” the bench said.

It observed this ought not to be a part of judicial inquiry and particularly, having regard to the activity in question and the materials in the form of texts cited before the court by both the petitioners and the respondents, this question cannot be conclusively determined in the writ proceedings.

“Since legislative exercise has already been undertaken and ‘Jallikattu’ has been found to be part of cultural heritage of Tamil Nadu, we would not disturb this view of the legislature,” it said.

The bench said the amendment Act read with the rules seek to substantially minimise the pain and suffering and continue with the traditional sport.

“The Amendment having received Presidential assent, we don’t think there is any flaw in the state action,” it said.

The Constitution bench, which had reserved its verdict in the matter on December 8 last year, was considering the five questions referred to it by the two-judge bench in 2018.

Referring the issue to the five-judge bench in February 2018, the apex court had said the petitions challenging the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act, 2017 need to be decided by a larger bench since those involve substantial questions relating to the interpretation of the Constitution.

Framing the questions for the larger bench, the top court had said it needs to be tested if the amendment Act “perpetuates cruelty to animals” and “can it, therefore, be said to be a measure of prevention of cruelty to animals”.

It had said, “Is it colourable legislation which does not relate to any entry in the State List or Entry 17 of the Concurrent List?”

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“The Tamil Nadu Amendment Act states that it is to preserve the cultural heritage of the State of Tamil Nadu. Can the impugned Tamil Nadu Amendment Act be stated to be part of the cultural heritage of the people of the State of Tamil Nadu so as to receive the protection of Article 29 of the Constitution of India?,” reads one of the questions framed by the two-judge bench.

Tamil Nadu had amended the central law — the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 — and allowed “Jallikattu” in the southern state. The state law was challenged in the apex court.

During the hearing before the Constitution bench, the counsel appearing for some of the petitioners had argued that “Jallikattu” leads to injuries and even fatalities of animals as well as humans and something that involves cruelty cannot be allowed.

In its written submissions filed earlier in the apex court, the Tamil Nadu government had said “Jallikattu” is a religious and cultural festival that bears a “religious significance” to the people of the state and does not violate the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960.

The apex court had earlier dismissed the Tamil Nadu government’s plea seeking a review of its 2014 judgment banning the use of bulls for “Jallikattu” events in the state and bullock-cart races across the country.

The court had, in its 2014 judgment, said bulls cannot be used as performing animals either for “Jallikattu” events or bullock-cart races, and banned their use for these purposes across the country.

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