Challenge to Jallikattu: Judgement in Plain English

Challenge to the Practice of Jallikattu

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

The Supreme Court delivered a unanimous Judgement upholding the practice of Jallikattu, Kambala and Bailgada Sharyat. The SC was dealing with petitions challenging the Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra amendments to the Prevention of Cruelty Against Animals Act, 1960 which allowed the practices.  


In May 2014, in Animal Welfare Board of India v A. Nagaraja (2014), the Supreme Court banned Jallikattu and bullock-cart racing. It held that the practices caused unnecessary pain and suffering, and subjected bulls to cruel treatment as per the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 (PCA Act). However, this ban was undone through a Union government notification in January 2016. The notification allowed the practice but imposed several additional restrictions that must be adhered to while organising Jallikattu events. 

One year later, in January 2017, the Tamil Nadu government enacted an Amendment to the PCA Act, allowing Jallikattu and introducing rules to govern its organisation and practice. The Maharashtra and Karnataka Legislatures enacted similar Amendments to the PCA Act to allow bullock-cart races. A group of animal rights activists and organisations challenged the Union notification at the Supreme Court, as well as both Amendments after their enactment. 

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 are constitutionally protected under Article 29 as cultural practices.

Fundamental Rights Not to Be Extended to Animals 

The Bench stated that there is no precedent which states that animals have fundamental rights. They recalled that Animal Welfare Board of India v A. Nagaraja (2014), which initially banned the practice of Jallikattu in 2014, was silent on this aspect as well. According to them, a legislation can be challenged on the basis of reasonableness as per Article 14 of the Constitution of India. However, Article 14 cannot be invoked by an animal as a person. Further, the Bench found that conferring Article 21 to sentient animals would amount to ‘judicial adventurism’ and should be left to the discretion of the legislature. 

Amendments Minimised Cruelty 

The Bench found that A. Nagaraja banned Jallikattu because of the cruel manner in which it was conducted. They referred to the new Tamil Nadu Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Conduct of Jallikattu) Rules, 2017 which lay out the requirements for a Jallikattu event.  These rules were formulated to minimise the ‘pain and suffering’ caused to the animals. They stated that, although it is likely that some cruelty will occur, most of the harmful practices have been ‘substantially minimised’, and the Amendments were not contrary to the A. Nagaraja judgement. 

Jallikattu is a Cultural Practice 

The Bench stated that Tamil Nadu has celebrated Jallikattu for centuries. However, they refrained from giving their own opinion about Jallikattu being a cultural practice. Instead, they relied on the Tamil Nadu legislature’s view about the practice having a cultural significance.  According to them, deciding whether Jallikattu is an integral part of Tamil Nadu’s culture requires a greater analysis of which the legislature is best placed to carry out.