Jallikattu, one of the oldest bull-taming sports in the world, will not be played this year during Pongal in Tamil Nadu, with the Supreme Court on Tuesday staying the Centre’s notification lifting ban on the controversial game as an interim measure.
The court rejected the plea of ministry of environment and forests and Tamil Nadu that Jallikattu is part of the ancient tradition and culture and should not be stopped as there were enough safeguards provided in the January 7 notification.
“As an interim measure, we direct that there shall be stay of notification dated January 7, 2016 issued by the of ministry of environment and forest,” a bench of Justices Dipak Misra and N V Ramana said while issuing notices to the Centre and others on a batch of pleas challenging the notification.
At the outset, the petitions filed by bodies including Animal Welfare Board of India and People for Ethical Treatment of Animals India were listed before a bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur.
However, CJI Thakur referred the petitions to the bench headed by Justice Misra after Justice Banumathi, who hails from Tamil Nadu and is presently part of the CJI’s bench, recused from hearing them.
A battery of senior lawyers including K K Venugopal, Anand Grover, C A Sundaram and Siddharth Luthra sought an interim stay on MoEF’s notification citing relevant portions of the earlier apex court judgement and said that in the 21st century, an animal cannot be subjected to cruelty in the name of culture and traditions.
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Centre, opposed the plea saying no fundamental rights of any of the petitioner bodies have been violated and moreover, the notification provides for measures to ensure that no bulls are subjected to any kind of cruelty during Jallikattu.
“Jallikattu is not a bull fight of Spain where either the bull or the man dies,” Rohatgi said, adding that the taming of bull in this sport is done without any instrument or weapon.
“In this Jallikattu, a man may die but the bull can’t,” he said, adding that the court has to balance the culture and tradition.
He said the apex court may ask the District Collector or the Commissioners to supervise Jallikattu and file report in this court.
If there is something wrong with a sport, then wrongs should be corrected instead of banning the sport. “You correct the wrongs and do not ban the sport,” the attorney general said, referring to the findings of the Lodha panel on cricket.
Senior lawyers S Naphade and L Nageshwar Rao, appearing for Tamil Nadu, also opposed the pleas against Jallikattu and said that steps may be taken in pursuance of the notification to ensure that no bull is subjected to any cruelty.
The bench, however, remained unimpressed and granted interim stay on the MoEF’s notification and asked the Centre and various states like Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Gujarat to file their responses within four weeks.
The decision to allow Jallikattu along with bullock cart races in other parts of the country, had come through a government notification despite strong objections by animal rights groups.
Jallikattu also known Eruthazhuvuthal is a bull taming sport played in Tamil Nadu as a part of Pongal celebrations on Mattu Pongal day.
In its notification, the Centre had said, “The central government, hereby specifies that following animals shall not be exhibited or trained as performing animals with effect from the date of publication of this notification, namely bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers, lions and bulls.”
“Provided that bulls may be continued to be exhibited or trained as a performing animal, at events such as Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu and bullock cart races in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Punjab, Haryana, Kerala and Gujarat in the manner by customs of any community or practised traditionally,” it had said.
However, the Centre had also put some conditions, saying the bullock cart race shall be organised on a proper track, which shall not exceed two kilometres.
In case of Jallikattu, the moment the bull leaves the enclosure, it shall be tamed within a radial distance of 15 metres. It should also be ensured that bulls are put to proper tests by authorities of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Department to ensure that they are in good physical condition to participate in the event.
Performance enhancement drugs are not to be administered to the bulls, the notification had said.
The use of bulls in performances was banned by the United Progressive Alliance government in 2011 on the ground that the sport ended in cruelty to the animals.