The Karnataka government’s decision to introduce an ordinance that allows people to hold a controversial bull race in the state has come under judicial scrutiny with the Supreme Court stating on Friday that the move was “fraud on the Constitution”.
A bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra took strong exception to the ordinance because a bill legalising the bull race, called Kambala, was returned by the President in May for reconsideration.
The top court’s concern came while it was hearing a writ petition filed by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), challenging Karnataka government’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Karnataka Amendment) Ordinance, 2017.
A traditional folk sport, Kamabala is held every year from November till March in coastal Karnataka under the auspices of local landlords and households. The state government had introduced the ordinance in the Karnataka assembly on Thursday to “preserve and protect” people’s tradition.
The bench asked Attorney General KK Venugopal, who was appearing on behalf of the Centre, whether the Karnataka government’s move to pass the ordinance was permissible within the Constitution.
“On one hand the President refuses assent to the bill passed by the legislature and sends it for reconsideration and on the other you (Karnataka) bring an ordinance. Is it permissible under the Constitution? Can you (Karnataka) commit a fraud on the Constitution?” it asked.
The bench also posed questions to Karnataka government’s counsel Devdutt Kamat, asking “Tell us what is the state’s concern with this sport, which has cruelty inherent in it? Can you do something which is not permissible under the Constitution?”
Justice DY Chandrachud, who was part of the apex court’s bench, pointed that the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act was a central legislation. “Does the state have an ordinance-making power if the President refuses to give assent?” the bench asked the counsel. “This is disturbing us.”
In his response, Venugopal said that the bill returned by the President was withdrawn and the ordinance passed by the state had addressed the objections raised by him.
PETA’s lawyer, senior advocate, Siddharth Luthra disputed the AG’s claim and said the bill was pending when the ordinance was passed. He asked for a stay on the government’s order, arguing that there was no difference in the returned bill and the ordinance.
When the AG tried to justify the ordinance by stating that it had the deemed consent of the President, Justice Chandrachud said: “That would be far reaching if you say that the ordinance on a law made by Parliament will continue to be valid. When the bill is not valid for the President to give his assent how can the Ordinance be valid for him?”