Reprimanding the police for the arrest and detention of four school students for allegedly discolouring her posters during Holi, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati on Wednesday directed their “immediate” release.

The four students of Uttar Pradesh Sainik School here, who are appearing for their XII board exams, were arrested on Holi night on charges of damaging public property and a case had been lodged against them under the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act. They were later sent to a reformatory home for juveniles, according to official sources.

Taking serious exception to action taken against the students for their “petty mistake”, Ms. Mayawati said she talked to the Lucknow DIG and asked him why they had been punished so harshly and that too during their exams. “I have asked him to release them immediately,” she told a press conference here.

Maintaining that she came to know about the incident through newspapers, the Chief Minister said, “I talked to the Lucknow DIG this morning. I told him they are kids and have done a petty mistake. You should have reprimanded them but why were you so harsh on them and that too during their exams,” she said, adding, “I also told him that he should remember that he shouldn’t behave in this manner with children.”

While police claimed that the students were caught damaging the public property, school authorities alleged that the police was settling scores.

“It doesn’t seem that our students would do such an act (of smearing colour on Mayawari’s posters),” school spokesman K.K. Tiwari said.

School sources alleged that the “SHO Sarojini Nagar was settling scores as his request for admission of a child in mid-session was turned down by the authorities.”

Mr. Tiwari said that on Holi night these students had gone out of the hostel to purchase some medicine. “While they were returning, the students were stopped by police, who alleged that they had damaged posters of the Chief Minister and booked them on charges of damaging public property.”