With only a week to go before the Kila Raipur Sports Festival, billed as Punjab’s ‘rural Olympics’, the organisers are on a collision course with the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) over bullock-cart races.
Armed with a Supreme Court order from May last year, the AWBI says the SC “disallowed” any sporting event which is cruel to animals, including bulls. But the organising body, Grewal Sports Association, is adamant that the race would be held this year too.
Bullock-cart races are arguably the most sought-after event from among the 40-odd events at the games, for which spectators not only from the state but from other countries visit the village, 24km from Ludhiana, where the games are held every year. To be held from January 29 to February 1, this year would be the 79th edition of the games.
The event had first run into controversy in 2012 following objections from animal protection groups after which it was withdrawn that year. However, it made a comeback in 2013 and was a part of the games last year as well.
In a landmark judgment in May 2014, the apex court had banned the use of bulls in races, or any form of competition or fights of bulls across the country. The AWBI, an advisory body of the government, was asked by the court to monitor such events.
Vinod Kumar, assistant secretary of the board headquartered in Chennai, said, “We have intimated all the state heads of the board against holding events that result in cruelty to animals.”
However, when contacted, general secretary of Grewal Sports Association (GSA) Paramjeet Singh said, “These rural games are our tradition that we have been following for decades now. We ensure that no cruelty is inflicted upon any animal during the festival and take all precautionary measures.”
Sandeep Jain, who represents Ludhiana on the AWBI, said the government was duly intimated about the SC orders, and holding any such event would be contempt of court. “Organisers of such events in the northern states must learn from their southern counterparts who did not hold several popular events after the SC order,” he added.
But GSA secretary Balwinder Singh Jagga argued that the bullock-cart race was not a violation of the SC order. “We have invited all animal welfare bodies and requested them to visit the games and monitor the entire event to see if any animal is being treated cruelly,” he said, adding that they had not received any official intimation of any ban.
Punjab animal husbandry department director HS Sangha said, “We have not issued any written notice to the organisers as they are already aware of the Supreme Court’s directions. I will check if we can write to the organisers.”