Preventing animal cruelty is a duty of the state

Source– The post is based on the article “Preventing animal cruelty is a duty of the state” published in The Hindu on 4th January 2023.

Syllabus: GS3- Conservation. GS2- Significant provisions of constitution

News– The article explains the issue of legality of jallikattu sport in Tamil Nadu. It also explains the issue of animal welfare.

A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court of India will deliver its verdict on the validity of Tamil Nadu’s law permitting the practice of jallikattu in the State.

In 2014, in Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja, a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court declared jallikattu illegitimate. Since then, Tamil Nadu has made efforts to resurrect the sport’s legality.

What are the deficiencies in constitution and legislative structure for addressing the question of animal welfare?

None of the fundamental rights contained in Part III of the Constitution are explicitly conferred on animals. Article 14 and Article 21 are bestowed on persons.

Some of the DPSPs and the Fundamental Duties put responsibility on the state and on human beings to protect and improve the natural environment. But these are unenforceable obligations.

Legislation on animal welfare does not follow an animal rights approach. These are based on the ethical belief that collective conscience does not permit us to inflict unnecessary pain and suffering on animals. This approach was followed while enacting the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.

The PCA Act has shortcomings. While it criminalises several types of actions that cause cruelty to animals, it contains exemptions. For example, the use of animals for experiments with a view to securing medical advancement.

Tamil Nadu amended the PCA Act in 2017 on the basis that both the state and the Union government have the power to legislate on issues concerning cruelty to animals. It specifically excluded jallikattu from the confines of the statute’s various protections. It also secured the President’s approval for the law.

What are the arguments by petitioners against jalikattu in the Supreme Court?

Judicial review of legislation can broadly be made on two grounds. One, the competence of the legislature to enact the law. Second, the violations of fundamental rights contained in Part III of the Constitution.

Both the Union and the State legislatures have equal power to make laws on ‘prevention of animal cruelty’. But the law regulating jallikattu by the Tamil Nadu government gives consent to cruelty on animals. Hence, it must be seen as a colourable exercise of power.

The Supreme Court arrived at clear findings of fact and law in 2014. In A. Nagaraja, the court had held that jallikatu amounted to a violation of the existing provisions of the PCA Act, and the fundamental duty contained in Article 51A(g).

The Bench said that it had a direct bearing on the right to life contained in Article 21. The expanded meaning of the word “life” now includes a right against disturbance to the basic environment.

What should be the approach towards this issue?

On any reasonable reading of the Constitution, it might be difficult to hold that animals are promised rights under Article 21 and under Article 14.

The better approach to the dispute is to maintain a greater faith in our Constitution’s text and values. It needs to be seen in the context of our own right to live in a world that treats animals with equal concern.

The judgement in A. Nagaraja hinted at this approach.  It held that Article 21 safeguards only the rights of human beings. But the word “life” today means something more than mere existence. It means an existence that allows us to live in a clean and healthy environment.

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