Justice that also makes space for animal welfare

Source– The post is based on the article “Justice that also makes space for animal welfare” published in “The Hindu” on 24th May 2023.

Syllabus: GS2 – Indian Polity

News– The article explains the SC judgments on jallikattu and legal and constitutional issues related to animal rights

What was SC judgement on jallikattu in A. Nagaraja case?

It declared the practice illegal. SC held that bulls could never be performing animals.

They were anatomically ill-suited for competition. They were being forced into participating in a practice that caused them unnecessary pain and suffering. Any conduct of jallikattu breached the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.

What was the response of the Tamil Nadu government on SC judgement?

To overcome the judgement, the Government of Tamil Nadu, in 2017, introduced a series of amendments to the 1960 Union law. It ensured that jallikattu was altogether exempted from the protections that the statute offered.

The government said the law was made with a view to preserving the State’s tradition and culture.

What was the response of petitioners who challenged the Tamil Nadu law in SC?

In Animal Welfare Board of India vs Union of India case, the validity of a Tamil Nadu law permitting the practice of jallikattu was challenged before SC.

First, petitioners claimed that the law had failed to overcome the verdict in A. Nagaraja, where jallikattu had been found unlawful.

They argued that the Government of Tamil Nadu lacked the legislative competence to amend the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.

Third, they asserted that animals too must be treated as persons. So, jallikattu violates the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution.

What is criticism against the SC judgement on Tamil Nadu law?

The Court’s response to these arguments is dissatisfactory and often contradictory. This is especially true in its approach to claims of personhood.

The Court held that there is no precedent that provides fundamental rights on animals in India. It would be an act of judicial adventurism to confer rights on animals that are enjoyed by human beings.

As per SC, amending law can be tested for reasonableness that is contained in Article 14 of the Constitution. But that right too, cannot be invoked by any animal as a person.

It is difficult to understand the rationale for this distinction. The right to equality under Article 14 is conferred only on persons. Now, if animals are not persons, then surely the law cannot at the same time be tested on Article 14.

Despite these assertions, the judgement contains no ensuing analysis on whether the Tamil Nadu amendments are against the requirement of equal treatment.

On a reading of the Constitution, it can be implied that animals are not persons and therefore do not enjoy fundamental rights. But it does not mean that a law, which encourages cruelty to animals, be treated as beyond judicial review.

What is the way forward for preventing cruelty against the animals?

There is no need for seeing animals as persons and conferring on them a set of justiciable rights. There is a need to change our conception of rights to treat animal welfare as intrinsic to our constitutional arrangement.

The Supreme Court has routinely dealt with these types of issues. For example, it has held that a human being’s right to life includes within its ambit a right to live in a healthy environment, and a right to clean air and water.

It can be argued that our own right to lead a meaningful life includes a right to live in a society that respects and treats animals with equal concern.

Deciding on issues of personhood might well be Parliament’s prerogative. But our present juridical structure makes it impossible to treat the advancement of animal welfare.

It is our collective obligation to extend our commitment to justice not only to human beings but to animals too.

Print Friendly and PDF