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Animal Welfare: Justice that also makes space for the animal world

Context:

This article talks about the issues raised in The Animal Welfare Board of India v. Union of India before the Indian Supreme Court here among other things, which questions the constitutionality of a Tamil Nadu legislation permitting the practise of Jallikattu. The case presented the Court with a clear chance to move India’s animal protection legislation in a more equitable direction. (Source: The Hindu, 24.05.2023)

Animal Welfare
Animal Welfare

Earlier judgements regarding Jallikattu:

  • In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that the practice was unlawful.
    • Bulls are unsuitable as performance animals due to their anatomical structure. There is a fact that people forces the bulls to take part in cruel tradition of Jallikattu, in the name of preserving their culture, according to two judge bench in A. Nagaraja. Accordingly, the Court considered that any behaviour of Jallikattu violated the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.
  • The Tamil Nadu government made a number of revisions to the 1960 Union statute in 2017 in response to the judgement.
      • The State ensured sure that Jallikattu was completely free from the safeguards provided by the Act by making these amendments. The state has made law with the intention of safeguarding the tradition and culture of the State.

Criticism of amendments:

  • First, according to the petitioners, the law was unable to reverse the ruling in A. Nagaraja, which categorically declares Jallikattu unconstitutional.
  • Secondly, they contended that the Tamil Nadu government lacked the statutory authority to weaken the protections provided by the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
  • Thirdly, they said as we must treat animals and human equally, so Jallikattu seems to violate Article 21 of the Constitution, which safeguards the right to life.

Responses to criticism:

  • The Court declares from the outset that there is no precedence in India for giving animals fundamental rights. It makes the case that granting rights to animals, earlier granted only to humans, may constitute judicial adventurism.
  • Nevertheless, the Court argues that the amending law can still be put to the test of reasonableness in accordance with Article 14 of the Constitution.
  • However, it states that human being or juridical person can only use this privilege. They may espouse the cause of animal welfare” and not by any animal acting in the capacity of a person.

Analysis of responses:

Not only is the Court’s response to these arguments immensely unsatisfactory, but it is frequently inconsistent as well. This is especially true when it comes to how it handles personhood claims.

  • Similar to Article 21, the Article 14 right to equality is solely granted to individuals. It states that “The State shall not deny to any person the equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws.”
  • Now, if animals are not people, then the legislation cannot be examined under Article 14 at the same time. This is because only legal entities can claim the right to equality.
  • In any case, notwithstanding these claims, the judgement makes no further examination. It does not give clarification whether the Tamil Nadu amendments violate any standards for equal treatment.

Way forward:

The solution to the argument does not always rest in treating animals like people or in giving them legal rights. Instead, there is a need to figure out how to improve our understanding of the fundamental rights to animal care.

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