The petitioners challenging a Tamil Nadu law allowing bull-taming sport Jallikattu argued in the Supreme Court on Tuesday that when the law prohibits cruelty to animals there cannot be an amending Act which perpetuates cruelty.
Jallikattu, also known as eruthazhuvuthal, is a bull-taming sport played in Tamil Nadu as part of the Pongal harvest festival.
Arguing before a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Justice K M Joseph, senior advocate Sidharth Luthra, appearing for some of the petitioners, said the Constitution recognises that cruelty to animals is an activity which ought not to be perpetuated.
Referring to the apex court's 2014 judgment banning the use of bulls for Jallikattu events in the state and bullock cart races across the country, Luthra argued the verdict is sought to be overruled by allowing the bull-taming sport.
When arguments regarding the rights of animals were raised, the top court asked, "In such a complex interplay of rights, would it not be safer to leave it to the legislature than taking on ourselves the duty to categorise these rights?"
Luthra told the bench, also comprising justices Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy and C T Ravikumar, that the rights were explained in the 2014 verdict of the top court.
The bench observed that a majority of the petitions before it in the matter are under Article 32 of the Constitution which relates to enforcement of rights.
"The question is, whose fundamental rights?" it asked.
During the day-long arguments, senior advocate Shyam Divan, who appeared for the petitioners in one of the pleas, contended that a major of thrust of his submissions is that the Tamil Nadu Act amending the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 is a "colourable exercise".
"When the legislation and legislative entry talks of prevention of cruelty, we cannot have amending Act which perpetuates cruelty," Luthra argued.
He said when the Constitution recognises that cruelty to animals is an activity which ought not to be perpetuated, it recognises the rights of animals.
The bench observed that after the amendments were made subsequent to the apex court verdict, the states were conscious and they prescribed certain rules in order to ensure safety.
"The question is, when this court was examining it (earlier), what were the rules? Were these rules there when the judgment was pronounced?" it asked.
During the arguments, Luthra termed as a "clear case of arbitrariness" the amendment allowing Jallikattu in the state.
"You cannot have amendment which would nullify the object of the legislation," he said.
The arguments in the matter will continue on Wednesday.
The Constitution bench had on November 24 commenced hearing arguments on a batch of petitions challenging the Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra laws allowing Jallikattu and bullock-cart races.
The Tamil Nadu government recently told the top court that 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 has said Jallikattu is not merely an act of entertainment or amusement but an event with great historic, cultural and religious value.
The apex court is considering the five questions referred to it by a two-judge bench of the top court in February 2018.
Referring the issue to the five-judge bench, the apex court had said 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 related 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 southern state.
The apex 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.
It had earlier dismissed the Tamil Nadu government's plea seeking a review of its 2014 judgment banning the use of bulls for Jallikattu in the state and bullock-cart races across India.
On the five questions referred to the larger bench, the top court had said it needs to be tested if the amended Act "perpetuates cruelty to animals" or "can it, therefore, be said to be a measure of prevention of cruelty to animals".
It had asked, "Is it colourable legislation which does not relate to any entry in the State List or Entry 17 of the Concurrent List?"
"The Tamil Nadu Amendment Act states that it is to preserve the cultural heritage of the state of Tamil Nadu. Can the impugned Tamil Nadu Amendment Act be stated to be part of the cultural heritage of the people of the state of Tamil Nadu so as to receive the protection of Article 29 of the Constitution?" reads one of the questions referred to the larger bench.