The Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed the Centre's notification lifting ban on controversial bull taming sport Jallikattu during the festival of Pongal in Tamil Nadu.
"As an interim measure, we direct that there shall be stay of notification dated January 7, 2016 issued by Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF)," a bench comprising justices Dipak Misra and NV Ramana said.
The bench also issued notice to the MoEF and Tamil Nadu on petitions filed by various bodies including Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) seeking striking down of the Centre's notification and sought their replies within four weeks.
Jallikattu, also known as Eruthazhuvuthal, is a bull taming sport played in Tamil Nadu as a part of Pongal celebrations on Mattu Pongal day.
Earlier during the day, a bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur referred the petitions to the present bench as one of the judges Justice Banumathi, who hails from Tamil Nadu, recused from hearing the batch of petitions.
The apex court order comes after petitions were filed by Animal Welfare Board and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) India demanding that the Centre's recent notification allowing Jallikattu and bullock cart races be "struck down".
The four-year-old ban on holding of Jallikattu was lifted on 8 January by the Modi government in poll-bound Tamil Nadu with certain restrictions.
The decision to allow Jallikattu along with bullock cart races in other parts of the country had come through a government notification despite strong objections by animal rights groups.
In its notification, the Centre had said, "...Central Government, hereby specifies that following animals shall not be exhibited or trained as performing animals with effect from the date of publication of this notification, namely bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers, lions and bulls."
"Provided that bulls may be continued to be exhibited or trained as a performing animal, at events such as Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu and bullock cart races in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Punjab, Haryana, Kerala and Gujarat in the manner by customs of any community or practiced traditionally," it had said.
However, the Centre had also put some conditions, saying bullock cart race shall be organised on a proper track, which shall not exceed two kilometres.
In case of Jallikattu, the notification had said that the moment the bull leaves the enclosure, it shall be tamed within a radial distance of 15 metres and it should also be ensured that bulls are put to proper testing by authorities of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Department to ensure that they are in good physical condition to participate in the event.
Performance enhancement drugs are not to be administered to the bulls, the notification had said.
Peta India had said that the Environment Ministry's notification allowing Jallikattu and bull races had come despite a Supreme Court judgement which held that the Ministry cannot allow these races and cannot modify the notification dated 11 July, 2011 (which banned forcing bulls to perform) without consulting the AWBI.
"Terrifying and injuring bulls is abuse, not sport, and this combined with the injuries and deaths of people common at Jallikattu events puts a bloody stain on India's reputation in the eyes of the world.
"Laws and SC verdicts need to mean something and we look to the Supreme Court to confirm once again Jallikattu and bull races must not be allowed," Peta India Chief Functionary Poorva Joshipura had said.
In just four years, from 2010 to 2014, approximately 1,100 injuries to humans were reported by the media as a result of cruel and dangerous Jallikattu-type events and 17 people died, including a child.
Peta India has documented in AWBI authorised inspections that during Jallikattu, terrified bulls are often deliberately disoriented by being given substances like alcohol, having their tails twisted and bitten, being stabbed and jabbed by sickles, spears, knives or sticks and being punched, jumped on and dragged to the ground.
Three bulls even died during Jallikattu events in 2014. During races, bulls are often hit with nail-studded sticks and pushed beyond the point of exhaustion. In bullfights, which often occur in Goa, a round ends when one of the bulls manages to flee (or is killed), Peta India had said.
(With inputs from PTI)