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Jallikattu protests set to end as Tamil Nadu govt readies ordinance

S Murari | Updated on: 11 February 2017, 5:46 IST

The end seems near for the student-led agitation in support of the traditional Tamil bull-taming sport of Jallikattu. After five days of protests, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O Panneerselvam has promised an ordinance that will clear the legal hurdles in Jallikattu's path.

In a statement, Panneerselvam said he would himself inaugurate Jallikattu once the ordinance is issued.

The draft of the ordinance has been sent to the Union Home Ministry for clearance, and minister Rajnath Singh has assured that it will get President Pranab Mukherjee's nod.

Panneerselvam, who met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Thursday in this regard, said the Centre had promised all support to the state law. He also said the ordinance would amend the law to make it conform to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, and thus save it from being challenged in court.

Modi had asked the state government to go ahead with the ordinance, as the Central notification of 8 January 2016, which removed bulls from the list of performing animals, had been stayed by the Supreme Court on a batch of petitions filed by the Animal Welfare Board and other groups. The notification had been challenged on the grounds that it was in conflict with the 1960 Act.

A two-judge bench of the Supreme Court reserved judgement in this case on 7 December last year. Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi had told the court that the Central and state governments were engaged in finding a solution, and thus, the court had deferred its order on this case by a week.

What the ordinance will change

The earlier Tamil Nadu law of 2009, which sought to regulate the conduct of Jallikattu with safeguards to ensure that no harm was caused either to the bulls, the tamers or the spectators, was quashed by the Supreme Court in 2014. This was on the basis of a report by the Animal Welfare Board that bulls were subjected to cruelty in events organised in three venues in and around Madurai in 2013.

What is envisaged is an amendment to Section 11 of the Act, which defines cruelty to various animals, and one provision, which makes punishable to incite any animal to fight another solely for the purpose of entertainment. A broader reading of this provision brings Jallikattu within this ambit.

Section 27 mentions animals in the exempted category like horses and dogs used by the army.

The proposed ordinance will amend the two sections to include bulls.

Since prevention of cruelty to animals is in the Concurrent List, a state legislature can enact a law. By way of abundant caution, the Tamil Nadu government wants to get the Centre's clearance for the proposed ordinance. Panneerselvam's visit to Delhi has cleared the decks for this.

Since the Supreme Court is yet to pronounce its verdict on the Central notification, any fresh challenge to the Tamil Nadu ordinance can be made only after it comes into force. In the meantime, the state government can go ahead and hold Jallikattu, thus meeting the main demand of the student agitators.

Current scenario

If this happens, it will be seen as a stupendous success for the student movement. And the movement has succeeded because it has stayed clear of politics.

However, politics cannot be kept out for long. The DMK on Friday held rail roko agitation through the state, with party working president MK Stalin leading the protest at the suburban Mambalam station in Chennai.

Before launching the one-day agitation, he congratulated the students and said their agitation reminded him of the 1965 anti-Hindi agitation that led to a sea change in Tamil Nadu politics.

While protestors on the Marina Beach in Chennai and elsewhere organised peaceful protests, in Salem, a batch of protestors held up train for over a day. Southern Railway has said that over a dozen trains were held up in different parts of the state because of the DMK-led agitation.

As a mark of solidarity with the students, there was a bandh across Tamil Nadu on Friday. Buses stayed off the roads, shops were closed and cinema houses cancelled matinee shows, while schools and colleges declared a holiday. The strike was observed even in the textile towns of Coimbatore and Erode in western Tamil Nadu.

Panneerselvam has called a cabinet meeting on Friday evening to take stock of the situation and give final shape to the ordinance.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 20 January 2017, 5:31 IST