"I realise that some of my criticisms may be mistaken; but to refuse to criticize judgements for fear of being mistaken is to abandon criticism altogether... If any of my criticisms are found to be correct, the cause is served; and if any are found to be incorrect the very process of finding out my mistakes must lead to the discovery of the right reasons, or better reasons than I have been able to give, and the cause is served just as well." -Mr. HM Seervai, Preface to the 1st ed., Constitutional Law of India.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Preservation of Biodiversity & Jallikattu

Readers would be well aware of the recent massive protests in Tamil Nadu regarding the banning of Jallikattu and the subsequent events consequential to the protests, such as the promulgation of the Ordinance allowing Jallikattu and the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly passing of a Bill replacing the Jallikattu Ordinance. News reports indicate that certain petitioners have approached the Supreme Court seeking relief against the Ordinance and the Bill. 

One of the threads of arguments put forth by certain experts well-versed with Jallikattu and breeding of animals seems to be that Jallikattu promotes native breeding of cows and also leads to preservation of animal biodiversity. The argument seems to be that the bull which “wins” in the Jallikattu is considered as the strongest among bulls and is treated as the common heritage of the village. It also appears that the said bull is allowed to mate with cows in the village thereby producing healthy second generation of those cows. Whether this is true or not is a matter for experts on veterinary science and village socio cultural practices to comment upon. On paper, this argument seems compelling. A few recent news reports dealing with this aspect can be found here here and here.

From a perusal of the 2014 [Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja & Ors. (2014) 7 SCC 547] and the 2016 [Chief Secretary to the Govt., Chennai Tamilnadu and Ors. v. Animal Welfare Board and Ors. 2016 (12) SCALE 334] judgements of the Supreme Court on Jallikattu ban, it appears that the said argument (preservation of native cow breeds) was never brought to the Hon’ble Court’s attention. As to why, there could be several reasons. One of the reasons cited has been the lack of awareness of this aspect of rural practices among the mainstream population and the lack of available scientific studies documenting it. Further, it has also been argued that those who are aware of these practices could neither approach the High Court/ Supreme Court nor create awareness among others owing to their lack of economic strength.

The lack of detailed arguments before the Supreme Court (going by the judgements) on the issue is surprising considering news reports on the subject even as early as in 2014 (see here). There were a few reports even before the 2016 judgements (See the BBC report cited above and this news report)

Whether these arguments are actually true or not is for the Supreme Court to determine. Nevertheless, when far-reaching issues such as preservation of biodiversity, rural economic, socio-cultural practices, access to justice are raised, Hon’ble Supreme Court ought to deeply delve on the issues and pass judgements.

Another aspect of the matter is the statistics cited in the 2014 judgement relating to cruelty towards animals. It is well known to those well-versed with statistics is that the numbers game is dangerous in that it is extraordinarily difficult to examine the correctness of statistical data. Therefore, it is humbly submitted that whenever such studies and statistical data are relied upon, it is important to the said data to be made public and invite comments on the correctness thereof. Statistical data might, prima facie, appear forceful but there are innumerable possibilities that the statistical data and the inferences may be erroneous. [See, for instance the "elegantly” titled article by Paul F. Velleman “Truth, Damn Truth, and Statistics”, Journal of Statistics Education Volume 16, Number 2 (2008)] on the issue. Judges have to be careful about statistical data. The inferences sought to be made in statistical studies produced in courts should not only satisfy judges but should satisfy rigorous statistical standards of replication, randomization, proper sampling and others. 

Taking this issue in a larger context, it could be explored if data and studies submitted in litigation having large-scale impact on the country (such as the Jallikattu ban judgements and other PILs) represent only one side of the story or tend obfuscate truth. Unlike in typical adversarial litigation, it is possible that in PILs, studies presenting comprehensive facts / data may not be forthcoming, especially if comprehensive facts/ data are not available with the Government, in which case, the courts should tread with extreme caution. For instance, this blogger does not think that Secretaries of the State of Tamil Nadu or the Union of India was very well aware of the biodiversity related issues associates with Jallikattu (assuming this aspect was not brought to the court's knowledge).

In the context of Jallikattu, if the native breeding of cows arguments is true, then it would be in the interest of the country that the native breeds are preserved. For this purpose, it could make sense to allow Jallikattu albeit in a heavily regulated form. the larger challenge is, however, ensuring preservation of the local biodiversity.

(Edited after posting)

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