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Since 1st March, 1999
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Keep off statues, SC warns Maya Hide-and-seek heat on CM

New Delhi, Sept. 11: The spectre of a contempt case hovered over Mayavati’s statue-building spree today after the Supreme Court asked her government to remove all staff except watch and ward personnel from seven project sites by 7pm.

A two-judge bench rapped the state government over media reports that it had flouted an undertaking, given to the court three days ago, to stop work at these Lucknow sites.

“Don’t play hide-and-seek with the court,” the bench said. “You are trying to play with fire.”

The projects involve life-size statues of Mayavati, her mentor Kanshi Ram, the Buddha and party symbol elephants at street corners, parks and institutions. They have been challenged in the apex court and Allahabad High Court on grounds such as violation of forest laws and waste of public money.

On September 8, the apex court had refrained from formally ordering a stop to the construction, staying content with an undertaking from the state not to carry out any work at the sites, not even maintenance and repairs.

But the court today cited “disturbing” media reports that said the state had actually hastened the pace of work to present it with a “fait accompli”. It asked the chief secretary for an explanation.

Once the projects are complete, courts are unlikely to order demolition since that would further waste public money. In such cases, courts usually legalise the constructions after imposing fines or a condition to observe environmental safeguards. The state government appeared to have been banking on just that.

“It seems that under the pretext of maintenance, the order (of September 8) is being brazenly flouted. We direct that all activities of all manner and kind shall stop forthwith,” the court said.

It added it would have ignored the media reports but did not because the state government’s earlier record of abiding by court undertakings had “not been exemplary”.

The court even considered aloud the possibility of posting central forces at these sites to prevent the government from going ahead with the projects, but eventually decided against it.

“It’s their area, their police, what should we do?” the bench had asked the solicitor-general after a Lucknow residents’ association pleaded for central forces.

The court asked two newspapers and a TV channel to produce evidence in support of their reports. If the court is satisfied that the state indeed flouted its undertaking, it can start contempt proceedings.

No legal hurdle, however, stands before a similar project in Noida’s Sector 15, at least for now. A bench has refused to stay the project, preferring instead to ask the Mayavati government to explain its position.

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