NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court today said it would refer to a five-judge constitution bench a batch of pleas challenging Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra laws allowing bull-taming sport 'Jallikattu' and bullock cart races.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice R F Nariman, while reserving its order, said the larger bench would decide whether states have the "legislative competence" to make such laws on grounds, including that 'Jallikattu' and bullock cart racing fell under the cultural rights enshrined under Article 29(1) and can be protected constitutionally.
Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra have amended the central law, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 and allowed Jallikattu and bullock cart racing respectively in their states. The state laws have been challenged in the apex court.
The apex court also said that it would hear separately the pleas challenging the Karnataka Ordinance allowing Kambala (buffalo races) in the state and issued notice on the petitions filed by parties including PETA and fixed them for hearing after six weeks.
The bench said it wanted to "put an end to the controversy" in view of the fact that Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra have been asserting that the laws were enacted to protect the cultural rights of a section of society.
The larger bench would decide whether state legislatures have legislative competence to make law on the subject, it said.
The issue whether the state laws were in "consonance with the basic tenets" of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, a central legislation, would also be tested, it said.
The top court referred to Article 25 (right to freedom of religion) and Article 29(1) (protection of cultural and educational rights) of the Constitution and said they may not enable states to make such laws.
"The interpretation will have far-reaching consequences," the bench said, adding that it would deliver a judgement and refer the matters to a larger bench.
Senior advocates Mukul Rohatgi and Shekhar Naphade, appearing for Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra respectively, argued in support of the state laws and said the law-making powers of state assemblies cannot be curtailed.
"There cannot be fetters on the legislatures on making laws," Rohatgi said, adding that bulls are taken care of as family members and moreover, Jallikattu has been part of cultural tradition for over 2,500 years. Rules have also been framed to ensure that bulls are not hurt during Jallikattu.
Naphade sought an interim stay on a Bombay High Court order holding that the Maharashtra's Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act will not come into force for the time being.
"Can state law be stayed by the high court in this manner," he asked.
Every year, after Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations, bullock cart racing in great numbers are organised in Maharashtra.
Jallikattu, also known Eruthazhuvuthal, is a bull-taming sport played in Tamil Nadu as part of the Pongal harvest festival.
The apex court, on November 6, had sought the response from the Tamil Nadu government on a plea of animal rights body PETA, challenging the state law that allowed bull-taming sport Jallikattu there. After issuing notice on the PETA's plea, it had tagged it with other pending petitions on the issue.
PETA has assailed the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Bill 2017 passed by the state assembly on grounds including that it circumvented apex court verdict holding the bull-taming sport as "illegal" in the state.
PETA alleged that Jallikattu was a blood sport in which the bulls were subjected to various types of cruelty.
Prior to this, the apex court had dismissed the plea of the Tamil Nadu government seeking a review of the 2014 judgement banning the use of bulls for jallikattu events in the state and bullock cart races across the country.
The court in its 2014 judgement had said that bulls cannot be used as performing animals, either for Jallikattu events or bullock-cart races in the states of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra or elsewhere in the country and had banned their use across the country.