Challenge to Jallikattu Day #2: Does the Tamil Nadu Law Violate Previous SC Decisions?

Challenge to the Practice of Jallikattu

Judges: K.M. Joseph J, Ajay Rastogi J, Aniruddha Bose J, Hrishikesh Roy J, C.T. Ravikumar J

A Constitution Bench led by Justice K.M. Joseph continued hearing arguments against Jallikattu and other bull-taming sports today. Senior Advocates Siddharth Luthra and Shyam Divan argued  that the continuation of the sports violates the Supreme Court’s decision in Animal Welfare Board v A. Nagaraja (2014).


The Supreme Court banned the bull-taming sport Jallikattu in Animal Welfare Board of India v A. Nagaraja (2014), and dismissed a petition seeking a review of the Judgement in 2015. However, in January 2016, the Union government issued a notification allowing the sport to be played while placing certain restrictions, such as requiring organisers to receive approval from the District Collector and to follow certain safety standards. This was immediately challenged at the Supreme Court by animal rights activists and organisations like The Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) and People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). 

One year later, in January 2017, the Tamil Nadu Legislature enacted the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act, 2017. The Amendment allowed the practice of Jallikattu to ‘promote tradition and culture’ and to ‘ensure the survival of native breeds of bulls’. It also provided an exception for Jallikattu from offences under the PCA Act through Section 28-A. 

The AWBI and PETA approached the SC for directions to quash the Tamil Nadu Amendment. In February 2018, a Bench comprising Justices Dipak Misra and R.F. Nariman referred the case to a 5-Judge Constitution Bench to decide if Jallikattu and other bull-taming sports like bullock-cart racing are protected as a cultural right under Article 29 of the Constitution. 

Sr. Adv. Luthra: State Government Laws Bringing Back Jallikattu Violate SC’s Nagaraja Decision

Senior Advocate Siddharth Luthra, representing animal rights group PETA, argued that the SC, in Nagaraja, found that bull taming sports amount to cruelty against animals. Rules and Amendments by various State governments introduced safeguards to the conduct of these sports. Mr. Luthra argued that even with these safeguards, the State governments cannot undo the  SC’s ‘scientific finding’ that the sports are inherently cruel to bulls. 

The Bench posed a series of questions to Mr. Luthra on this point. Justice Aniruddha Bose reminded Mr. Luthra that the petitions in question were filed under Article 32 of the Constitution—the Court can intervene only if fundamental rights are being violated. What fundamental rights are at stake here? Justice Ajay Rastogi posited that the State governments’ rules containing safeguards offer a way to prevent animal cruelty while still continuing culture. Were any such rules in place for the SC to consider before deciding Nagaraja

Answering the Bench, Mr. Luthra argued that Nagaraja established that animals have fundamental rights. Since the Constitution contemplates the prevention of animal cruelty, States cannot undo the Judgement through legislation. The question is not only of violating Nagaraja, but also the constitutional scheme. Mr. Luthra stated further that the safeguards do not change the scientific basis the SC used while declaring Jallikattu unconstitutional in Nagaraja. The situation before Nagaraja and after the introduction of the rules is not vastly different in terms of animal cruelty. Mr. Luthra stated that the rules had only introduced ‘a bit of sophistication’. Further, there was a lack of evidence to show that bull-taming sports are a part of local culture. 

Mr. Luthra finally questioned the manner in which the President’s assent was secured by the State governments while introducing legislation that brought back bull-taming sports after Nagaraja. He stated that the governments are required to place all relevant facts and evidence before the President to secure informed assent. In this case, he argued, there was no clarity on what information was provided to the President about the conflict between the proposed legislation and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.