justice, law, court


PETITIONER- The Animal Welfare Board of India & Ors

RESPONDENT- Union of India & ANR

DECIDED ON- 18th May, 2023

BENCH-  K.M. Joseph, Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy, C.T Ravikumar


Jallikattu, a bull-taming sport in Tamil Nadu, and bullock cart racing in Maharashtra were deemed unlawful by the Apex court in the case of Animal Welfare Board of India vs. A. Nagaraja and Ors. The court concluded that these activities violated section 3, 11(1)(a), and (m) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. In 2015, the Tamil Nadu Government’s plea for a review of the aforementioned judgment was dismissed. Subsequently, the Union Government issued a notification urging states to comply with the A. Nagaraja judgment. However, the notification included certain restrictions to address animal welfare concerns while permitting the continuation of Jallikattu. Animal rights activists challenged this notification. Meanwhile, in January 2017, while the challenge was pending, the Tamil Nadu Government enacted the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act, which allowed Jallikattu to take place under specific regulatory guidelines.[1]

Many organizations contested this amendment and petitioned the Supreme Court to invalidate the Tamil Nadu amendment, primarily arguing that it contradicted the ruling in A. Nagaraja. In 2018, a two-judge bench referred the matter to a five-judge bench. Similarly, Maharashtra and Karnataka also enacted amendments to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, allowing the practice of bullock cart racing and Kambala, respectively. These amendments faced similar petitions seeking their annulment. Various writ petitions challenging the amendments introduced by the three states were clubbed for a joint hearing.


1. Do the Tamil Nadu amendment and amendments made by other states contravene Entry 17 of the Concurrent List in the Indian Constitution, as they perpetuate cruelty against animals and are these amendments considered colorable legislation that does not fall under any entry in the State List or the “prevention of cruelty against animals” in the Concurrent List?

2. Are the amendments protected under Article 29 of the Constitution as cultural heritage, and are these sports essential for the survival and well-being of the breed of bulls involved?

3. Do the amendments violate Article 51(A)(g) and 51(A)(h) of the Constitution of India, which mandate citizens to protect the environment and foster a ‘scientific temper’ and do these amendments also contravene Article 14 and 15 of the Constitution of India?

4. Do the amendments directly contradict the A. Nagaraja judgment and the judgment dismissing the plea for reviewing the A. Nagaraja judgment and do these amendments address the shortcomings pointed out by the aforementioned two judgments?


The contentions by the petitioners’ are:

1. Even with the amendments, the sports being sought for legalization will still be in contradictory to Sections 3, 11(1)(a), and (m) of the 1960 Act. The exemption made for bulls under the protective scheme of the 1960 Act lacks intelligible criteria and a logical basis, making it arbitrary.

2. The amendments aim to validate provisions that were previously deemed illegal by the Supreme Court in the case of A. Nagaraja, without effectively addressing the shortcomings highlighted in that judgment. As a result, these amendments are not valid and violate the constitutional framework.

3. The fundamental duties of Indian citizens to show compassion towards animals and uphold humanism, as enshrined in Article 51-A(g) and (h), implies that animals have corresponding rights to be safeguarded from activities that cause distress and inflict pain, solely for the entertainment of humans. Based on this principle, the term “person” in Article 21 of the Constitution of India encompasses sentient animals, and their liberty is restricted by bovine sports. Therefore, the legitimization of these amendment acts is unreasonable, arbitrary, and fails to meet the standards set by Article 14.

4. The sports in question cannot be regarded as part of Tamil Nadu’s cultural heritage, nor do they guarantee the preservation and well-being of native breeds of bulls, as stipulated in the Amendment acts.

The contentions of respondents are as follows:

1. The legislature, rather than judicial interpretation, should be responsible for determining the rights of sentient animals.

2. The amendments have resulted in significant changes to the nature of all three bovine sports, both in terms of performance and practice. Therefore, these amendments are not mere superficial alterations aimed at circumventing the A. Nagaraja ruling and do not violate the 1960 Act.

3. The bovine sports in question hold a significant position in the culture and heritage of the states.

4. The amendments have effectively addressed the shortcomings in the sports that were identified in the A. Nagaraja case.


The court acknowledged that at the time of the A. Nagaraja judgment, the sports in question violated the provisions of the 1960 Act. However, the court considered the changes that occurred after the state amendment acts were enacted, including modifications in the manner in which the sports are performed. The court observed that the practices causing pain have been reduced following the amendments.

The court rejected the petitioners’ argument that the permission for bull sports is based on an irrational classification. To support this, the court drew a comparison with horse racing and the consumption of non-vegetarian food, illustrating that animals can experience pain and suffering for human entertainment.

The court concluded that the issues addressed by Sections 3 and 11(1)(a) and (m) of the 1960 Act would no longer arise after the amendments due to changes in the way the sports are conducted.

Furthermore, the court noted that there is no precedent establishing that animals possess fundamental rights under the Constitution. The court clarified that its jurisdiction does not extend to providing absolute protection for animals against pain and suffering. It highlighted that the broad theme of the 1960 Act is to shield animals from “unnecessary” pain and suffering.[2]


The court held a different opinion than A. Nagaraja regarding the inclusion of Jallikattu as part of the cultural and heritage fabric of Tamil Nadu. However, the bench asserted that determining whether a particular practice is culturally significant should be the prerogative of the legislature, as the court lacks jurisdiction in this matter. The question of whether Jallikattu and similar sports are indeed integral to the culture and heritage of their respective states is of great importance, as it significantly influences the threshold for prohibiting such practices. The court’s failure to address this issue creates a loophole in the judgment.

The amendments explicitly state that these sports are vital for the preservation and continuity of native bull breeds. One can argue that alternative methods exist to ensure the survival of these breeds without subjecting them to pain and suffering. The government can explore other measures to promote their conservation.

The court acknowledged that while some degree of pain may be permissible in dealing with animals, it stressed the importance of avoiding “unnecessary” pain and suffering. While the amendment acts and accompanying rules aim to modify the nature of these sports, the practical reality on the ground may differ. To address this concern, the court could have directed the governments to issue guidelines ensuring strict adherence to the rules during sporting events. This is particularly crucial given the heightened emotions often associated with these events, which can lead to the infliction of “unnecessary” pain and suffering on the bulls. Additionally, the court could have instructed the governments to raise awareness among the general population about the amendments and rules, as individuals in the heartlands of India who participate in these sports may be unaware of the rules for minimizing pain inflicted on the bulls.

Due to the absence of explicit constitutional provisions and precedents establishing animal rights, the court was unable to extend rights to animals. While the constitution highlights the duty of humans to show compassion towards animals, the court could not establish a direct correlation between these duties and the rights of animals. In a rapidly evolving world, there is a pressing need for the legislature to confer legal rights upon animals, thereby empowering the judiciary to safeguard them from pain and suffering.


The judgment would act as an important precedent that holds significant value as it established that while some amount of pain and suffering is permitted, inflicting “unnecessary” pain and suffering is not allowed. However, the degree of pain and suffering inflicted must be taken into consideration because the amount of pain and suffering deemed “necessary” varies depending on the nature of the activity being performed. Bovine sports, which are primarily for entertainment purposes, cannot justify the infliction of the same high degree of pain as activities like ploughing farmland or other livelihood-related tasks.

Jallikattu involves the use of physical force on bulls. It inflicts more pain and suffering on bulls compared to horse racing, therefore, the court’s analogy between jallikattu and horse racing is not perfect.

The court analyzed the various rules in the Amendment acts and concluded that the character of sports had changed considerably after the introduction of new rules. Considering this, the court concluded that the new amendments didn’t breach the provisions of the 1960 Act and were not in direct contradiction to the A. Nagaraja judgment. However, it is crucial to recognize that the practical scenario might be different, and the degree of pain and suffering inflicted on bulls might vary. Hence, there is a need for the court to provide strict guidelines to state governments to ensure that the pain and suffering of bulls is significantly reduced.

WRITTEN BY- Sai Rishi Katari, 2nd Year student, NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad

[1] “Challenge to the Practice of Jallikattu”, SCObserver, (May, 29, 2023)

[2] 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 447