Preventing animal cruelty is a duty of the state

Prelims level : Environment Mains level : GS-III Environment & Biodiversity |Climatic Change Conservation, Environmental Pollution & Degradation, Eia
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Why in News?

  • A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court is about to deliver its verdict on the validity of Tamil Nadu’s law permitting the practice of jallikattu in Tamil Nadu.


  • Jallikattu is a sport in Tamil Nadu where men compete with each other to hold on to the humps of agitated bulls that are released into an open arena. It is usually held in the Pongal season.
  • In Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja (2014), a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court (SC) stated that jallikattu was illegitimate. The court observed that it was a cruel practice that caused unnecessary pain and suffering to the animal. 
  • However, Tamil Nadu Government tried to resurrect the sport’s legality and passed a law permitting the sport.
  • SC will review the validity of the law. The way the court resolves the issue would have a bearing on the future of animal rights and safety in India.

Animal Rights and Safety:

  • It should be noted that none of the rights mentioned in Part III of the Constitution is explicitly guaranteed to animals. For example, the Right to equality (Article 14) and the Right to life ( Article 21) are conferred to a ‘person’.
  • There are some provisions in the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP) and the Fundamental Duties that highlight the responsibility of the state and human beings to protect and improve the natural environment. But these are not enforceable.
  • The initial effort to legislate on animal welfare, that is, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA Act), 1960, was based on the collective conscience that it was morally wrong to inflict unnecessary pain and suffering on animals.
  • Though PCA criminalizes certain actions that cause cruelty to animals, it has some shortcomings also. For instance, the use of animals for medical experiments is exempted from the Act. 
  • The SC used the PCA Act and affirmed that Jallikattu falls within the boundaries of forbidden actions. It declared that jallikattu, in and by itself, amounted to a violation of the existing provisions of the PCA Act, and the fundamental duty contained in Article 51A(g).
  • Article 51A(g) requires citizens “to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures.”
  • However,  Tamil Nadu amended the PCA Act in 2017 citing that both the state and the Union government have the power to legislate on issues concerning cruelty to animals. The state government further secured the President’s imprimatur for the law.

Arguments of the petitioner:

  • It should be noted that judicial review of legislation can be made on two grounds:
  • Whether the legislature is competent to enact the law.
  • Whether the law violates any fundamental rights delineated in Part III of the Constitution. 
  • It is claimed by the petitioners that Tamil Nadu’s amendments failed on both grounds. 
  • The petitioners recognized the power of State legislature to make laws, as ‘Prevention of animal cruelty’ is mentioned in Entry 17 of the Concurrent List of Schedule VII to the Constitution. But excluding Jallikattu from the PCA Act will result in condoning cruelty to animals. Thus, it should be seen as a colourable action that bears no nexus to Entry 17.
  • It is also argued that the expanded meaning of the word “life” (in Article 21) over the years includes a right against disturbance to the basic environment. This implies that the life of an animal should also be treated with “intrinsic worth, honour, and dignity”.

Associated Concerns:

The arguments related to fundamental rights would raise several questions like: 

  • Do animals have personhood? 
  • Does the idea of justice include a guarantee of animal rights? 
  • What does that duty of care towards animals entail? 
  • How to balance animal care with other rights guaranteed to human beings?
  • Ensuring the Right to life and the Right to equality would lead to several bizarre consequences. 

Way Ahead:

  • As per philosopher Martha Nussbaum, our duty of care towards animals should not originate due to our similarities to them but we must see “each form of animal life in all its beauty and strangeness.”
  • Moreover, instead of focusing on personhood, a better approach would be to see it in the context of our own right to live in a world that treats animals with equal concern.
  • It is possible to argue that a human right to a healthy environment would include a human right to animal welfare. In this context legislating to prevent animal cruelty would transform into a binding duty on the state.
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