The Supreme Court yesterday upheld the validity of amendment acts of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, and Karnataka which allowed the bull-taming sport 'Jallikattu', bullock-cart races, and buffalo racing sport 'Kambala', saying they are "valid legislations".

In a unanimous verdict, a five-judge constitution bench headed by Justice K M Joseph noted that The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act, 2017, The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Maharashtra Amendment) Act, 2017 and The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Karnataka Second Amendment) Act, 2017 were enacted by the respective state legislatures and had received presidential assent.

The Bench also comprising Justice Ajay Rastogi, Justice Aniruddha Bose, Justice Hrishikesh Roy, and Justice CT Ravikumar observed, "Ordinarily, whether a particular practice or event is part of culture or tradition is to be decided by the custom and usage of a particular community or a geographical region which can be translated into an enactment by the appropriate legislature..."

The Bench while holding so, further observed, "Since legislative exercise has already been undertaken and Jallikattu has been found to be part of cultural heritage of Tamil Nadu, we would not disrupt this view of the legislature."

Senior Advocates Shyam Divan, Anand Grover, Sidharth Luthra, Krishnan Venugopal, and V. Giri appeared for the Appellants while Solicitor General Tushar Mehta along with Senior Advocates Kapil Sibal, Mukul Rohatgi, and Rakesh Dwivedi appeared for the Respondents before the Court.

The bench said 'Jallikattu' is a type of bovine sports and "we are satisfied on the basis of materials disclosed before us, that it is going on in the state of Tamil Nadu for at least last few centuries".

"Our decision on the Tamil Nadu Amendment Act would also guide the Maharashtra and the Karnataka Amendment acts and we find all the three Amendment Acts to be valid legislations," the bench said in its 56-page judgment.

The bench also dealt with the submissions advanced by the petitioners that animals have fundamental as also legal rights.

It said while the protection under Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) has been conferred on person as opposed to a citizen, which is the case in Article 19 (protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech etc) of the Constitution, "we do not think it will be prudent for us to venture into a judicial adventurism to bring bulls within the said protected mechanism".

The bench referred to the apex court's 2014 judgment, which had 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.

It said in the 2014 verdict, the question of the elevation of statutory rights of animals to the realm of fundamental rights has been left at the advisory level or has been framed as a judicial suggestion.

"We do not want to venture beyond that and leave this exercise to be considered by the appropriate legislative body. We do not think Article 14 (equality before law) of the Constitution can also be invoked by any animal as a person. While we can test the provisions of an animal welfare legislation, that would be at the instance of a human being or a juridical person who may espouse the cause of animal welfare," the bench said.

The bench, which dealt with the five questions referred to it by a two-judge bench of the apex court in February 2018, said whether 'Jallikattu' has become integral part of Tamil culture or not requires religious, cultural and social analysis in greater detail, "which in our opinion, is an exercise that cannot be undertaken by the judiciary".

"The question as to whether the Tamil Nadu Amendment Act is to preserve the cultural heritage of a particular State is a debateable issue which has to be concluded in the House of the People. This ought not be a part of judicial inquiry and particularly having regard to the activity in question and the materials in the form of texts cited before us by both the petitioners and the respondents, this question cannot be conclusively determined in the writ proceedings," it said.

The bench further said, "Since legislative exercise has already been undertaken and 'Jallikattu' has been found to be part of cultural heritage of Tamil Nadu, we would not disrupt this view of the legislature."

The apex court said it does not accept the view reflected in the 2014 verdict that performance of 'Jallikattu' is not a part of the cultural heritage of the people of Tamil Nadu.

"We do not think there was sufficient material before the court for coming to this conclusion," it said, adding, "In the Preamble to the Amendment Act, 'Jallikattu' has been described to be part of culture and tradition of Tamil Nadu."

The bench said even if it proceeds on the basis that legislature is best suited branch of the State to determine if particular animal-sports are part of cultural tradition of a region or community, or not, if such cultural event or tradition offends the law, the penal consequence would follow.

"Such activities cannot be justified on the ground of being part of cultural tradition of a State," it said.

The bench said the Tamil Nadu Amendment Act read with the rules seek to substantially minimise the pain and suffering and continue with the traditional sports.

"The Amendment having received Presidential assent, we do not think there is any flaw in the State action. 'Jallikattu' as bovine sports have to be isolated from the manner in which they were earlier practiced and organising the sports itself would be permissible, in terms of the Tamil Nadu Rules," it said, adding that the amendment Act minimises cruelty to animals in the concerned sports.

Holding that the Tamil Nadu Amendment Act is not a "piece of colourable legislation", the bench said it relates, in pith and substance, to Entry 17 of List III of Seventh Schedule to the Constitution. It said Tamil Nadu Amendment Act is not in pith and substance, to ensure survival and well-being of the native breeds of bulls and the law is also not relatable to Article 48 of the Constitution.

"In our opinion, the Tamil Nadu Amendment Act does not go contrary to the Articles 51-A (g) and 51-A(h) and it does not violate the provisions of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India," it said, while answering one of the questions referred to it by the two-judge bench.

The bench said the Tamil Nadu Amendment Act read along with the rules framed on that behalf is not directly contrary to the ratio of the 2014 judgment and the November 2016 verdict dismissing the plea seeking review of the 2014 judgment.

"...we are of the opinion that the defects pointed out in the aforesaid two judgments have been overcome by the State Amendment Act read with the Rules made in that behalf," it said.

While dismissing the petitions challenging these Amendment Acts, the bench said, "However, we direct that the law contained in the Act/Rules/Notification shall be strictly enforced by the authorities. In particular, we direct that the District Magistrates/competent authorities shall be responsible for ensuring strict compliance of the law, as amended along with its Rules/Notifications."

Cause Title: The Animal Welfare Board of India & Ors. v. Union of India & Anr.

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