Jallikattu issue goes to Constitution Bench

The Supreme Court on Friday referred to a five-judge Constitution Bench the challenge to the Tamil Nadu law permitting the traditional bull-taming sport “Jallikattu” that is a part of the Pongal festivities.

“We have formulated five questions,” said Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman pronouncing the judgement.

Referring the matter to the constitution bench, Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Nariman, in their judgment, said the challenge to the Tamil Nadu law needed to be “authoritatively decided” as it involve substantial questions relating to the interpretation of the Constitution.

The questions include whether the Tamil Nadu law furthers and perpetuate cruelty to animals and thus could it be said to be a measure of prevention of cruelty to animals? Is it colourable legislation which does not relate to the prevention of cruelty to animals?

Referring to the Tamil Nadu government’s argument that Jallikattu was part of the cultural heritage of the state, the bench asked if the state law qualifies to be part of the “cultural heritage” of its people to have protection of the Constitution’s Article 29 guaranteeing cultural and educational rights of the minorities.

Can the survival and well-being of the native breed of bulls under the Tamil Nadu law comes in the ambit of Article 48 under the Directive Principle of State Policy, which calls on the state to “endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle”.

It also asked if the Tamil Nadu amendment is contrary to Articles 51A’s (fundamental duties of citizens) sections (g), which calls for citizens to protect environment and have compassion for animals and (h) (“to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”), and could it be said, therefore, to be unreasonable and violative of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution, guaranting equality before law and protection of life and personal liberty, respectively.

The court referred the matter after Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) challenged the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act, 2017, paving way for Jallikattu.

Tamil Nadu has contended that Jallikattu was a centuries-old custom being practised during Pongal festivities and could not be curbed invoking statutory barriers.

In one of the hearings, Chief Justice Misra had indicated that matter may be referred to the Constitution Bench to resolve the issue once and for all.