Supreme Court sets up social justice bench



New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday set up a social justice bench to deliver speedy access to constitutional rights, particularly those relating to women and children. The bench will deal exclusively with social matters, including the right to food and medical assistance. The move is designed to ensure that these cases can move quickly through the apex court and, notably, to encourage deeper deliberation on the rights and responsibilities of the state. The Supreme Court said “several cases relating to the domain of ‘social justice’ have been pending for several years” in the apex court, prompting Chief Justice H.L. Dattu to order “that these cases shall be given a specialized approach for their early disposal so that the masses will realise the fruits of the rights provided to them by the constitutional text”.

The two-judge bench comprising Madan B. Lokur and U.U. Lalit will begin sitting from 12 December. The range of issues identified includes access to food for drought-hit people and prevention of premature deaths caused by lack of nutrition. The right to health figures on the agenda with the mandate to make access to medical care a reality irrespective of people’s financial capacity. The bench will also determine availability of night shelters for the homeless and the destitute. “This is an idea that should have been long implemented. The job of judiciary is not just to deliver justice but also to make people respect and fear the law. Right now, people think they can do anything and get away with it,” said Ranjana Kumari of the Centre for Social Research, a non-governmental organization. “I know of two dowry cases which are pending in the Supreme Court for 22 years.

If this body is formed, hopefully justice wouldn’t be delayed any more,” she added.

While the apex court has routinely set up dedicated benches, these have primarily dealt with economic issues. The “forest bench”, later renamed the “green bench”, has been dealing with environmental cases for nearly two decades. Similarly, the lower judiciary has courts dedicated to crimes against children and offences like sexual assault. Having a dedicated bench for matters of constitutional rights and societal concerns will reduce the pendency of cases arising from such matters. The new bench will take up not only pending matters but also new ones in order to “secure social justice, one of the ideals of the Indian Constitution”, the court said. The release also indicated that secure living conditions for women—in the absence of which many find themselves in sex work—are a part of constitutional goals which must be achieved.

Welcoming the move, Supreme Court lawyer and anti-trafficking activist Ravi Kant said, “I think this move will bring more focus on these issues. Different PILs related to the same matter are pending before different benches. This body will bring in more clarity. It will also expedite the delivery of justice.”

However, some experts said that with only a brief announcement made so far, details about implementation, the number of cases to be transferred to the bench and other such matters were unclear. “Definitional questions as to what qualifies as social justice will arise. It might also encourage forum shopping, as each litigant wants to be heard by a sympathetic bench. The other problem is that the concept of rule of law promises equal treatment of all cases,” Rahul Singh, assistant professor at the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru. “Constituting a special bench for a class of cases is antithetical to this concept.” “It’s important that the apex court is talking about these issues. But this shouldn’t reduce to mere tokenism. We have so many mahila (women’s) courts in the country. Crime against women has become a disease in this country,” lawyer Rebecca John said. “If the bench is a response to recognizing that cases related to women and children are serious, then I welcome the move.”

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Five condemned to death for India ‘honour’ killing




NEW DELHI — Five members of a family in India were sentenced to death on Friday for the torture and “brutal” murder of a young couple from Delhi in a so-called “honour killing” two years ago. The parents, uncle, aunt and brother of Asha, a 19-year-old woman killed along with her boyfriend Yogesh in 2010, were all condemned to hang by additional sessions court judge Ramesh Kumar.

Yogesh, a taxi driver, wanted to marry Asha, the daughter of a vegetable vendor, but the girl’s family was against the alliance because the boy belonged to a lower caste. India has seen an upsurge in such killings, which mainly involve young couples who marry outside their caste or against their relatives’ wishes and are murdered to protect what is seen as the family’s reputation and pride.

Autopsy reports revealed that the young couple had been tied with ropes, beaten with metal pipes and electrocuted, local media reports said. “Medical examination had revealed that the two had died due to the thermoelectric shock from repeated electrocution,” said the Indian Express newspaper.

Public prosecutor P.K. Verma told AFP: “All the five persons were handed the death penalty because it was proved beyond doubt that they tortured and killed the young boy and girl just because they were in love and wanted to marry.

“The murders were brutal and deliberate,” Verma added.

The convicted family can appeal against the decision in a higher court.

Last year, India’s Supreme Court said the death penalty should be given to those found guilty of “honour” killings, calling the crime a barbaric “slur” on the nation. It only allows the death penalty in what it calls the “rarest of rare” category.

Ravi Kant, a New Delhi lawyer who has been fighting to bring in a law which will provide specific, severe penalties to curb such killings, welcomed the punishment handed out Friday by the city court. “Such a punishment will certainly have a huge impact on the society. It will serve as a strong deterrent to one and all. The sentencing is also in line with the Supreme Court directive and it must be lauded,” Kant told AFP.

There are no official figures on honour killings, though an independent study in 2010 suggested that as many as 900 were being committed every year in the northern states of Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.

Many cases go unreported, with police and local politicians turning a blind eye to what some see as an acceptable form of traditional justice by families seeking to protect what they see as their honour. Prisoners can often languish for years on death row in India, with only one execution having taken place in the last 15 years — that of a former security guard hanged in 2004 for the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl.

Compensation meant for rescued child workers seldom reaches them


“It is essential that the system is made more transparent by having the Labour Department reveal the details of the penalties levied and compensation paid to the child workers” said Supreme Court lawyer . Rescued child workers seldom get the compensation or benefits under various schemes they are entitled to and often end up forced into working like bonded labourers due to the same.

Supreme Court lawyer Ravi Kant, also President of NGO Shakti Vahini, which has been actively involved in the rescue of child workers in Delhi and elsewhere, said less than 20 per cent of the rescued children are getting the compensation meant for them.

“The idea behind imposing the Rs.20,000 fine was to make it act as a deterrent, but I do not know how effective it has proved as a tool,” Mr. Kant said.

For the welfare of the children, he said, it is essential that the system is made more transparent by having the Labour Department reveal the details of the penalties levied and compensation paid to the child workers. Mr. Kant said the Supreme Court had also laid down that forced work by children without wages be booked under the Bonded Labour Act. This was also meant to provide the benefits of the Indira Vikas Yojana, to enable one member of the family get a job and enable the family access to ration supply as under the Below Poverty Line category that provides for the cheapest rations.

But even here, the implementation has left a lot to be desired and only a small fraction of the rescued children actually get the benefits of this scheme. A senior Labour Department official agreed that less than 20 per cent of the rescued children get the compensation money in hand. The reasons for this are many. The law as of now prohibits opening of an account in the name of a minor alone and they also cannot be issued debit cards. “While there is no one to ask about the welfare of these children when they are working, once they are rescued their relatives or distant relatives turn up for a slice of the money they are to get. It has also been seen that sometimes the families of these children force them back into the drudgery after getting the compensation amounts. The money lures them.”

The official said the Municipal Corporation of Delhi had in 2008 issued instructions that all rescued child workers would be given admission in the schools all through the year to ensure their proper rehabilitation. “Despite this, most child workers find their way back into the trade they are engaged in due to family pressure.”

The official said the parents are seldom booked for abetting child labour. Though The Children (Pledging of Labour) Act, 1933, provided for imposition of a penalty of Rs.50 on the parents and of Rs.250 on those engaging the parents for the services of their children, this law is seldom used to curb child labour. He said the children who are rescued are produced before the Child Welfare Committee dealing with the respective area. In all, there are four such committees in Delhi. These committees have magisterial powers and they give the custody of the children to the care homes which are being run by various non government organisations.

Children hailing from other States are repatriated to their native place. They are supposed to be paid a part of the Rs.20,000 fine imposed on the employer.


Establishments being sealed across Delhi to curb child labour




“Apart from nearly 18 hazardous trades and about 65 processes, other works involving children are exempted under Sections 8 to 11 of the Act” said Labour Department official. Most establishments from where child workers are being rescued are now being sealed as per a recent Delhi High Court order.A senior Labour Department official said on Saturday that ever since the High Court’s May order, in which it had directed the sealing of all those premises from where child workers are rescued, the Department has been getting such premises sealed through the area Sub-Divisional Magistrates or the Tehsildars.He said it is also pertinent to note that not all cases of child labour are punishable under the law. The Child Labour Actprohibits employment of children in certain specified hazardous operations and processes and regulates the working conditions in others.  He said the Act covers children up to the age of 14.

“Apart from nearly 18 hazardous trades and about 65 processes, other works involving children are exempted under Sections 8 to 11 of the Act. But they also specify the working conditions for the children.”

Stating that children cannot be made to work for over six-and-half hours a day and have to be mandatorily given a rest after every two hours of work, the official said these rules were seldom followed.It was a Division Bench comprising Justice A. K. Sikri and Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw which had also directed the Delhi Government to file a status report by July 30 on the matter along with the details of the rescue operations and rehabilitation plans.

“In pursuance of the court directives, we have been actively carrying out raids against establishments and premises engaging child workers,” said the official.

Stating that child labour was basically a “social evil,” the official said the Right to Education Act has also made it mandatory for every child to have access to schools and education. Therefore, to discourage employment of children, raids are being mounted by the Labour Department along with officials of Revenue Department, Delhi Police, Department of Health, Municipal Corporation and NGO representatives.

“Each of these departments play a different role. We also videograph or photograph the raids wherever possible as evidence to prove the guilt of the establishments being raided.”

The official said the District Task Forces, comprising members of these departments and groups, have been carrying out raids across Delhi.

The problem of child labour has been compounded by issues such as growth in population, dependence of families on the incomes of their children or their inability to support the young ones, the demand for cheap labour and the fact that children are seen as docile workers who do not know about their rights and who, for fear of being beaten up, put up with long hours of work. Incidentally, the offence of employing children is bailable and most often those guilty of engaging child labourers get away by payment of a mere penalty.

President of Shakti Vahini, an NGO engaged in rescue and rehabilitation of child workers, Ravi Kant said the time has come to redraft the old, weak Child Labour Act as it neither has prosecution value nor provides provisions for proper rehabilitation. “Even now the reliance is more on the Juvenile Justice Act because of its stronger provisions.”

He said the child labour law was now in conflict with the Constitution, as under the Right to Education Act, there should be a complete ban on child labour whereas it only prohibits it in parts. “The Government should also take a firm stand in the matter. The Act only deals with children up to 14 years of age leading other adolescents up to 18 years prone to all kinds of exploitation while being employed as domestic or other workers.”


‘Anti-child labour cells need support’




NEW DELHI: Anti-child labour laws and their strict implementation have not been able to contain the problem of child trafficking in the city. Children are still being trafficked from states like West Bengal, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Assam to work in factories and households in inhuman conditions.

Industrial estates like Okhla, Wazirpur and Jhilmil Colony see a number of such children steadily working when they are guaranteed free education under the Right to Education Act.

While Delhi Police’s anti-human trafficking cell is over a year old now, and has helped rescue child labourers, there are several areas that need to be worked upon.

Ravi Kant, Supreme Court advocate who is conducting a study on several such cells in Delhi and across the country said, “There is no convergence between the ministry of women and child welfare and these cells and both agencies are working in isolation. The ministry needs to support the work of the police.” Kant’s study will form the India Country Assessment Report for the ministry of home affairs.

“While district level sensitization is going on, the justice delivery system needs to be strengthened. The legal aid system does not properly support the victims right now as the victims have to travel between states and testify in a court. While the travel expenditure is taken care of by the court, the state does nothing to ensure their accommodation,” he said. Many times, the victims and their families do not show up in court due to social stigma. “There is need to conduct these cases over video conferencing to encourage victims to testify. Right now, employers are not getting convicted in a lot of cases because of this,” he added.

Activists also say that the creation of these cells have helped the process of rescue of child labourers. Till April-end this year, 34 cases of child labour have been reported and 149 such children rescued. In 2011, 135 cases were reported and 1,144 children rescued.

Activists say that responsive nodal officers have helped them crack down on employers faster. Increase in registration of cases of missing children is a positive step in this regard. “Each of these state cells are given Rs 35 lakhs per year and a jeep to help them in raids. Video cameras have been provided by MHA for detailed recording of these rescue operations,” said Rishi Kant of NGO Shakti Vahini.

Currently, the cell in each district is headed by one inspector with sufficient number of upper subordinates and supporting staff. “In case of any organized trafficking racket that comes to notice, instructions are that the probe of that case shall be transferred to Anti-Kidnapping section of the Crime Branch for further necessary action,” explained a senior police officer.

While 33 persons – including 22 women – have been arrested under the immoral trafficking (prevention) act already this year, 121 such persons were arrested last year

‘Anti-child labour cells need support’

‘Anti-child labour cells need support’


Assam lags in victim relief


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Guwahati, May 30: Assam is lagging far behind in preparing a compensation scheme for victims of rape and human trafficking.

While 18 states in the country have approved schemes for payment of compensation to victims of rape and human trafficking, Assam is yet to start the process of preparing the scheme.

Ravi Kant, a member of the Central Advisory Committee on Combating Trafficking, told this correspondent today that despite Assam being a source area for human trafficking, the state government was yet to formulate any scheme that could go a long way in rehabilitating the victims.

He said in the Northeast only Mizoram has prepared a compensation scheme while Meghalaya was in the process of notifying one. “But in Assam, the social welfare department, which is to prepare the scheme, is yet to initiate the process,” he added.

It is mandatory for all state governments to prepare the victim compensation scheme in consultation with the Centre and notify the same in accordance with Section 357(A) of the CrPC. Kant said the ministry of child and women development had written to all the states in November last year to prepare the scheme.

Altogether 18 states have approved such schemes so far, he added.

Kant said the absence of such a scheme in Assam was making it very difficult to rehabilitate rescued victims of human trafficking.

The central advisory committee, which was formed in 1994 with the secretary of the ministry of women and child development as its chairperson, was the result of a Supreme Court directive that a committee be formed at the Centre to look into human trafficking.

Kant said it was essential to have a compensation scheme for victims of rape and trafficking because they need to be restored to a position of dignity and self-confidence.

“It is this principle of restorative justice that must form the basis of efforts to address the trauma that victims goes through and it must entail compensation in the form of financial assistance and support services such as counselling, shelter, medical and legal aid,” he added.

He said besides mental anguish, rape victims also suffer financial agony as they become too traumatised to remain employed.

“In case of trafficking, since most of the victims are from impoverished families, sometimes their parents refuse to accept them after they are rescued from the clutches of traffickers. In such cases, government compensation can play a big role in their rehabilitation,” Kant said.

Call for law against ‘honour killings’


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Call for law against ‘honour killings’

Call for law against ‘honour killings’


New Delhi, May 13: A government panel has recommended the enactment of a “comprehensive, standalone law” on the so-called “honour killings”, handing equal punishment to the killers, plotters and the instigators at kangaroo courts.

“The current provisions in the Indian Penal Code are inadequate in dealing with these acts of crime,” says the Planning Commission’s steering committee on women’s agency and child rights for the 12th Five-Year Plan.

Its report, posted on the plan panel’s website on Thursday, also calls for protection of the threatened couples against false charges such as kidnapping and for safe houses to be provided to them. (See chart)

The recommendations are not binding but sources said the Centre was working on such a bill.

In murder cases now, those who order the killing usually receive lesser punishment than the actual killers. For “honour killings”, the steering committee wants the same punishment as murder, ranging from a life term to the death sentence — including for those who ordered or instigated the killing.

“Honour killings” often take place when a couple marry outside their caste or within their gotra (clan) in breach of longstanding tradition, and are usually ordered or approved by family members or khap panchayat elders.

Another aspect of these murders is the passive role often played by the administration and police, who often fail to take steps to protect the victims even when they know of the threat. The steering committee has recommended that the new law fix the police’s liability.

An alleged example of the police’s prejudices came last week when TV channels purportedly showed a deputy inspector-general in Uttar Pradesh telling the father of a kidnapped girl that he should kill his daughter if she has eloped. “I would kill my sister if she eloped,” the officer was quoted as saying.

The steering committee has recommended that anyone publicly glorifying any harassment or killing in the name of honour be punished.

The Centre has received similar recommendations for a standalone law from a Planning Commission working group (in January) and a group of ministers set up two years ago to look into the subject. Honour killings are not a classified crime now, and no separate data of such cases are available with the National Crime Records Bureau.

Ravi  Kant, Supreme Court lawyer and President of Shakti Vahini, an NGO that has campaigned against these crimes, supported the demand for a standalone law.

Girl rescued from brothel returns from Bengal to depose before court


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Girl rescued from brothel returns from Bengal to depose before court

Girl rescued from brothel returns from Bengal to depose before court


Almost two years after being rescued from a red-light area of the Capital, where she was sold to a brothel owner by human traffickers, a minor girl has travelled all the way back from West Bengal to seek justice for the physical and mental torture she was subjected to. Unlike a large number of human trafficking victims, who after being rescued go missing, the girl has come back to depose before a city court as a witness, hoping to see the culprits behind bars.

Vishakha (name changed) also plans to move a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court seeking directions for making mandatory the examination of all the victims like her through video-conferencing, so that they are not made to come in person from far off places to testify in court. “The victim will also approach the apex court for compensation to all victims of sex trafficking. As of now, there is no detailed guideline for compensation in such cases,” said her lawyer Ravi Kant.

The girl who was kidnapped from South 24 Parganas is still living under the threat of being targeted by her kidnappers. “A few days ago, they pelted stones at my house late at night to scare us. My father then lodged a complaint with the local police seeking action against them. They have been regularly issuing threats to me and my family. We are constantly living in terror, because of which I seldom venture out and am unable to even resume my studies. In fact, we have put a photograph of the lady police inspector, who had rescued me, in our house to ward off the traffickers,” said Vishakha.

It was in July 2010 that Vishakha was kidnapped by two acquaintances of one of her friends. “I went out along with my friend to a fair, where two young men joined us. We then went to her residence, where I was kept in confinement and the next day I was forced to board a Delhi-bound train at the Howrah railway station. They took me to the red-light area and handed me over to a woman, who tortured me physically when I refused to comply with her demands,” she alleged. The girl was then raped several times.

Vishakha’s plight only came to light after she narrated her woes to a client requesting him to contact her family. “He informed my parents regarding my whereabouts, following which they contacted the Kamla Market police station,” said the victim. Back home, her parents had already got an abduction case registered.

“The area Station House Officer immediately formed a team and rescued the girl. The brothel owner and another female accused were subsequently arrested. While both the accused are now out on bail, the male accused still remains at large,” said a representative of non-government organisation Shakti Vahini, which was also involved in the operation.

Recounting the harrowing experience, the girl said soon after being rescued from “hell”, she landed up at a shelter home where she was ill-treated by the staff. “A woman officer would scold me often without reason. Apparently they did not have enough plates, because of which three or four of us had to eat in the same plate. We were made to cook food ourselves; the rice provided to us was all rotten and there was not enough water for the inmates,” she alleged.

“In most cases, after a brief stay at shelter homes, the victims are sent back to their family without any State support and they are left on their own to suffer. Most States have no rehabilitation and compensation scheme in place and many victims, a large number of them minors, who have suffered grave fundamental rights violations are left on their own,” said Mr. Kant.

Incidentally, in reply to a question raised by Rajya Sabha MP Upendra Kushwaha, the Union Home Ministry on Wednesday informed that seven girls had been rescued from the red-light area of G.B. Road and eight persons arrested in 2010, 26 victims rescued and 16 arrested in 2011 and 15 girls rescued and four accused arrested so far this year.

Plans to move a PIL for making the examination of all the victims like her through video conferencing mandatory


Should India Raise Age of Sexual Consent?


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WALL STREET JOURNAL – INDIA REALTIME – The Daily Pulse of the Worlds largest Democracy

India’s Cabinet late Thursday okayed an amended bill aimed at combating sexual abuse of children, a move that could go a long way to address the widespread problem. But activists, while generally welcoming the proposed legislation, have trouble with one of its provisions: raising the age of legal sex to 18 from 16.The move, they caution, could push parents in a conservative country to use the new law to sanction elder children’s sexual behavior. And the police may also use the law to harass couples.

“It will lead to hundreds of complaints by parents to file reports of rape even though the child had consensual sex and no crime was involved,” said Nishit Kumar, a spokesman at Childline, a toll-free helpline for street children in distress.

Pooja Taparia, founder of Mumbai-based organization “Arpan” which works in the field of child sexual abuse, agreed, saying the law is likely to be misused by both parents and police.More broadly, activists welcomed the bill as a needed correlative for a country with a massive child abuse problem.

According to a 2007 study on child abuse by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, over half of children reported having “faced one or more forms of sexual abuse.”

Around 8% of abuse cases are by persons known to the child in a position of trust and authority. The study also said that most cases do not report the matter.India at present does not have a specific law to protect children from sexual offenses, despite the face New Delhi has been a signatory  to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child since 1992. Current laws guard against sex with minors but prosecutions of abusers are rare.

One of the major innovations of the new bill, which must pass both houses of Parliament before becoming law, is to set up specific courts to try child-abuse cases – getting around massive back log of cases in the normal court system.Bureaucrats first drew up the bill in 2005 but it didn’t reach it final form until last year. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill, 2011 seeks to “protect children from offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography and provide for establishment of special courts for trial of such offences.”

Under the provisions of the bill, any sexual activity, even if consensual, with children under 18 years of age would be considered as rape and would be subject to prosecution.

“In many ways, it would help in fighting the cases of human trafficking and rape,” said Ravi Kant, a lawyer and president of Shakti Vahini , a human rights advocacy organization. But Mr. Kant, like many others, said he believed the consensual age for sex should remain 16.

“We need to treat the bracket of ages 16 to 18 differently,” says Ms Taparia. “If a child is raped, then you bring it under the judicial purview, but if it’s consensual sex between two people who are both within the age bracket 16 to 18 years, then it shouldn’t be criminalized. Puberty is coming early…So it’s regressive to take the age of legal sex to 18 years.”

Mr. Kumar said India’s sexual mores are changing. “Current sexual practices allow greater sexual freedom to young adults so raising the age doesn’t gel well with the current social trends,” he said.The global average legal age of sexual consent  is 16, according to data from Avert, a U.K.-based charity.

Activists also doubt how successful the law will be in tackling child abuse.

“Legal framework is necessary, but reality on ground can change only when the community is involved,” Mr. Kumar said.India, for instance, already has laws preventing children under the age of 14 from working but that hasn’t stopped child labor in India  becoming more prevalent.The law will also be very difficult to apply when sexual abuse happens within the home, Ms. Taparia said. “Very often we think law is the solution to everything,” she said, “but with incest it’s even more difficult” to prove a crime.

We cannot be a mute spectator, says EC official





“Party cannot be allowed to campaign at government expense”

As the Election Commission received reports from the Uttar Pradesh administration about the compliance of its order for draping the statues of Chief Minister Mayawati and BSP‘s party symbol, “the elephant,” the Commission took strong exception to the party’s criticism that its order was “unjustified and one-sided.”

“How can you expect the Commission to sit as a mute spectator when you [BSP] take political advantage and campaign through such statues which have been put up at the government’s expenditure? Won’t it affect the level playing field and give undue advantage to the ruling party?” asked a senior Commission official, on condition of anonymity, on Thursday.

The official was reacting to BSP general secretary and Rajya Sabha member Satish Chandra Mishra‘s criticism of the order. Mr. Mishra had written to the Commission saying its order was in violation of the law, and sought that it be reconsidered. Mr. Mishra had even said the Commission had demoralised the party and left Dalits and backwards “cheated.” The BSP also appeared to raise questions on the Commission’s intentions to hold free and fair polls in the State.

Mr. Mishra had written: “The decision is [in] violation of Article 14 of the Constitution, which provides right of equality. Similar decisions should be taken against other parties also.”

The EC official said the party symbol was an elephant whether its trunk was down or raised as if to signal welcome (as in the statue put up by the BSP government). “Even if there is a gain of one vote to the BSP through such statues, it amounts to influencing the voters and we can’t allow them to be set up in the public places at the government’s cost.”

The official asked the party why it did not approach the Allahabad High Court challenging the order on the draping of the statues instead of sparring with the Commission through the media. “Why are they not trying to settle the issue through the legal route,” he asked.

Advocate Ravi Kant had, in his writ petition filed in the Supreme Court in 2010 seeking derecognition of the BSP and freezing of its symbol, alleged that the Mayawati government had used around Rs. 2,000 crore from the State budget for 2008-09 and 2009-10 for such projects (statues).