The Centre on Friday issued a notification to permit jallikattu, Tamil Nadu’s traditional bull-taming sport, ahead of the Pongal festival.
The notification overturns a 2011 notification that prohibited the exhibition or training of bulls, and some other animals, as performing animals. The Supreme Court had in 2014 upheld the 2011 government order.
The present order permits jallikattu — and bullock cart races in Maharashtra, etc. — despite Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi reportedly advising the government against revoking the ban in view of the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Politically, the move is seen as an attempt on the part of the BJP government to reach out to Tamil Nadu, where the party has no presence. There has been widespread political opinion in the State in favour of the traditional sport.
There was also pressure from Maharashtra, where there has been a tradition of bullock cart races. Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar hails from the western State.
While retaining the general prohibition on using some animals — bulls, bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers and lions — as performing animals, the notification makes an exception for such traditional sports involving bulls, subject to the permission of the local administration and some conditions.
It adds to the 2011 prohibition the qualification: “provided that bulls may continue to be exhibited or trained as a performing animal, at events such as Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu and bullock cart races in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Punjab, Haryana, Kerala and Gujarat…”
It, however, adds a few guidelines to regulate it: these events shall take place in these areas at such places as the district magistrate or collector explicitly permits, and that the bull once out of the enclosure shall be tamed within a radial distance of 15 metres.
Political reactions to the move in the capital were muted, with both the ruling BJP and the Congress treading safely on the issue, qualifying their support for tradition with a concern for animal and human safety.
For, many see the custom as cruelty to animals and humans. A senior functionary of the government, however, said the notification has been issued without passage in the Cabinet. Sources say it was just mentioned at a Cabinet meeting without being on the agenda.
A source in the Ministry of Environment and Forests, however, explained this by claiming that the notification just “clarified” the previous notification of 2011, an argument with uncertain legal standing.
The notification’s bid to regulate the sport is being seen as an attempt not to attract accusations of sidestepping concerns altogether. “What we have allowed is with safeguards ensuring that there is no cruelty to animals,” Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said.
BJP spokespersons skirted the issue, with three national spokespersons choosing not to respond to the move.
The Congress on its part advised qualified caution.
“The Congress respects traditional sports that have come down generations. The important issue, however, is to ensure there is no cruelty to animals and that the sport is safe for participants and onlookers,” spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said.
While Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan of the BJP was seeking a government initiative to permit the event as Pongal comes, Union Minister Maneka Gandhi had early in 2015 said that jallikattu was a “western concept,” supporting the ban.