The SC on Monday agreed to hear on January 12 a batch of petitions led by the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), seeking to quash a January 7, 2016 notification issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, allowing the exhibition and use of bulls as performing animals for jallikattu and bullock-cart races.
The notification circumvents a Supreme Court judgment.
With just a few days more to go for Pongal festival to start, the petitioners made an urgent oral mention before a Bench led by Chief Justice Tirath Singh Thakur for an early hearing.
The causelist for January 12 was updated in the evening to show that the batch of petitions seeking a stay of the January 7 notification will be heard by a Bench led by Chief Justice Thakur and Justices A.K. Sikri and R. Banumathi.
This notification was issued despite contrary legal advice from Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi following a letter from the Tamil Nadu government to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make amendments in the law. The petitions contended that the Centre cannot legalise a sport inherently causing pain and distress to dumb animals by merely saying that bulls used for jallikattu (bull-taming sport) should not be subjected to cruelty.
They said the January 7 notification circumvents the May 7, 2014 Supreme Court judgment by introducing several regulations meant to protect bulls, all the while glossing over the fact that the very act of jallikattu is “inherently cruel” and blatantly violates several provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960 as interpreted by the apex court two years ago.
They questioned the notification’s justification to allow the return of jallikattu for cultural and traditional reasons, especially when the Supreme Court judgment had extensively discussed and concluded that the “sport” was a gross insult to the Tamil culture and tradition to “embrace bulls and not over-powering the bull, to show human bravery.”
The petitions said it was time Parliament elevated the rights of animals to that of constitutional rights, as done by many of the countries around the world, so as to protect their dignity and honour.
Besides the AWBI through its counsel and senior advocate Aryama Sundaram, the other petitioners include the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) represented by senior advocate K.K. Venugopal, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) by senior advocate Anand Grover, Compassion Unlimited Plus Action (CUPA) by senior advocate Siddharth Luthra.
The battery of petitions include those seeking contempt of court proceedings against the government for issuing the notification in violation of the Supreme Court judgment. Individual petitioners include members of the AWBI like Sowmya Reddy, Radha Rajan and Gauri Maulekhi.
“The court had held in 2014 that no amount of regulation can ever ensure that a cruelty-free event involving bulls, bullocks etc. The court had also held that when ‘culture and tradition’, such as sati, or jallikattu, or bullock cart races are violative of laws enacted by Parliament, they must bow down before the law of the land,” the FIAPO argued.
They contended that the notification defeats the very purpose and spirit of the PCA Act, a statute enacted at a time when it was noticed that in order to reap maximum gains, the animals were being exploited by human beings, by using coercive methods and by inflicting unnecessary pain.
“The PCA Act was, therefore, passed to prevent infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering and for the well-being and welfare of the animals and to preserve the natural instinct of the animal. Overpowering the performing animal was never in the contemplation of the PCA Act,” they argued.
The 2014 judgment has already noted that no regulations or guidelines should be allowed to dilute or defeat the spirit of a welfare legislation like Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960 and constitutional principles. If so, the Supreme Court should strike them down without hesitation. The judgment has already laid down the law that a court’s duty under the doctrine of parents patriae is to take care of the rights of animals, since they are unable to take care of themselves as against human beings. It classifies the bull as a draught animal not meant for running but sedate walking under the Prevention of Cruelty to Draught and Pack Animals Rules, 1965.