SC nod to bullock cart races in Maharashtra


The Supreme Court on Thursday allowed the resumption of bullock cart racing in Maharashtra, which was banned by the Bombay high court in 2017, as it observed that the tradition sport is going on in other states across the country.

A bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar also observed that the validity of provisions of the state amendment in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, and the rules framed by Maharashtra, which re-introduced the bullock cart race in the state in a regulated manner, ought to operate during the pendency petitions as the entire matter had been referred to a Constitution bench.

The law was stalled by the Bombay high court in October 2017 on the basis of a 2014 Supreme Court judgment which prohibited the use of bulls for any sport or race.

“It does not appeal to common sense that all across the country, the bullock cart race is permitted but not in one state. This court had applied its mind to these laws while referring the matter to a Constitution bench….We are on a limited issue whether to stop the race across the country or permit it for Maharashtra as well,” the bench, also comprising justices Dinesh Maheshwari and CT Ravikumar, said.

The bench’s remarks came after senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the state, pointed out that the sport was allowed in states like Karnataka and Tamil Nadu under similar laws passed by the respective state governments. These laws, Rohtagi said, were not stayed by the top court when separate petitions were filed against them in 2017.

In 2018, the laws passed by the three states permitting bullock cart races were referred to a Constitution bench of five judges to ascertain whether they had overcome the 2014 top court judgement.

The state’s plea to resume the sport was opposed by several NGOs and animal rights activists. Appearing for one such NGO, senior advocate Anand Grover said the 2014 top court judgment had held such races to be illegal and that state laws do not overcome the “unconstitutionality” imposed by that judgment.

The court said that this aspect would be reviewed by the Constitution bench and allowed the parties to approach the chief justice of India (CJI) for urgent hearing of the matter listed before a larger bench.

“Unless there are changed circumstances, we see no reason why similar treatment should not be extended to all states where the same dispensation applies with regard to the amended provisions of law,” the court noted.

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