Challenge to Jallikattu: Supreme Court Upholds Tamil Nadu Amendment

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 upheld the practice of bull taming sports such as Jallikattu, Kambala and Bailgada Sharyat, as permitted by the Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra Amendments to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 (PCA).


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.


Justice Bose, stated that the rules passed under the Tamil Nadu Amendment minimised any pain and suffering faced by the bulls. In effect, this saves the practice from Sections 3 and 11 of the PCA, which punishes infliction of  ‘unnecessary pain and suffering’ and ‘cruelty’ respectively. 

Shifting focus to whether Jallikattu is a cultural practice, the Bench held that A. Nagaraja incorrectly held that it was not. The Division Bench in A. Nagaraja did not have sufficient material to decide this question. In the present case, the Bench relied on the Tamil Nadu Legislature’s finding that it is a cultural practice. They refrained from commenting further on the subject holding that Judiciary cannot delve into whether the sport is a cultural practice, The Legislature is best suited to undertake this exercise. 

In passing, the Bench made some final observations. They affirmed that the Amendment was enacted properly as it received the assent of the President of India. Further, Jallikattu does not violate the Rights to Life or Equality of animals. Finally, the District Magistrate is responsible for strictly enforcing the provisions of the PCA and the rules governing Jallikattu events.