The Tamil Nadu government has told the Supreme Court that bull-taming sport "jallikattu" is a religious and cultural festival that bears a "religious significance" to the people of the state and does not violate the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960.

In a written submission filed in the Apex Court, the state government has said "jallikattu" is not merely an act of entertainment or amusement but an event with great historic, cultural and religious value.

"Jallikattu", also known as "eruthazhuvuthal", is a bull-taming sport played in the southern state as part of the Pongal harvest festival.

The state has told the Apex Court that the bulls involved in "jallikattu" are treated with "great care" throughout their lifespan and no harm is ever allowed to be caused to the animals till the very end of their lives.

"Jallikattu is a religious and cultural festival/sporting event which bears a religious significance to the people of Tamil Nadu. Each and every event of jallikattu is conducted during the Pongal festival as thanksgiving for a good harvest and subsequent festivals are conducted in temples," read the written submission filed by the state before a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Justice K M Joseph.

The Bench, also comprising Justice Ajay Rastogi, Justice Aniruddha Bose, Justice Hrishikesh Roy and Justice C T Ravikumar, commenced hearing arguments on a batch of pleas challenging two Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra laws allowing "jallikattu" and bullock-cart races on Thursday.

In its written submissions, Tamil Nadu has said "jallikattu" has great cultural and spiritual significance and is given prime prominence even in the school curriculum.

"The basic rules of jallikattu do not permit the bull to be tamed/restrained by using any instruments like sticks, ropes or knives and do not permit the participants to hold any other part of the bull except the hump," it said.

The written submissions said the bull is required to run only for a very short distance of 15 metres.

"Jallikattu does not violate the principles of compassion and humanism nor does it violate the provisions of the PCA Act," the state government said, adding, "Jallikattu has nothing to do with 'speciesism' or discrimination against animals. In fact, both the people who rear the bulls and those who participate in the event regard the bull as a precious and prestigious asset and respect the bulls."

The state has further said, "The people of Tamil Nadu have a right to preserve their traditions and culture. Cultural heritage being an intangible practice needs to be safeguarded. If needed, a cultural practice can be reformed, but only by taking the stakeholders into confidence."

The state has said it is not a fact that conducting "jallikattu" permits and perpetrates cruelty to animals. "In fact, with the passing of the Amended Act, jallikattu events are conducted without cruelty to the animals," it said.

The written submissions filed by the state said "jallikattu" is a cultural event with great historic and social value, in which the people of Tamil Nadu participate without any discrimination on the basis of caste and creed.

"It is submitted that in the name of prevention of cruelty, the courts ought not to impose absolute bans on jallikattu," it said.

"Animals do not have a fundamental right under Article 21 (of the Constitution) and the earlier judgments egregiously erred in directing a ban on jallikattu based on the finding that animals had such a right," the state has said.

The Constitution bench is considering five questions referred to it by a two-judge bench of the Apex Court in February 2018.

Referring the issue to the five-judge bench, the apex court had said in 2018 that the petitions challenging the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act, 2017 need to be decided by a larger bench since those involve substantial questions relating to the interpretation of the Constitution.

Tamil Nadu had amended the central law -- the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 -- and allowed "jallikattu" in the state. The state law has been challenged in the Supreme Court.

The Apex Court had earlier dismissed the Tamil Nadu government's plea seeking a review of its 2014 judgment banning the use of bulls for "jallikattu" events in the state and bullock-cart races across the country.

The Court had, in its 2014 judgment, said bulls cannot be used as performing animals either for "jallikattu" events or bullock-cart races, and banned their use for these purposes across the country.

With PTI inputs