Sukma: Chhattisgarh Collector Alex Paul Menon, who was released by Maoists yesterday after almost two weeks in captivity, reached home in Sukma a little after 9.30 this morning. Mr Menon was brought to Sukma in a helicopter from Chintalnar. His brother and brother-in-law were at the helibase to receive him. When the convoy of cars with Mr Menon reached his home, he was greeted by hundreds of villagers waiting outside. His mother-in-law then did a traditional aarti before he stepped inside his home.
Chief Minister Raman Singh, who addressed the media in New Delhi, began by thanking the mediators for facilitating the collector's release. He also stated how he was going to meet the Prime Minister soon, to evolve a national policy and strategy on dealing with Maoist issues and demands.
Stressing that Naxalism is not a state-specific problem, the chief minister said; a national policy could help tackle the situation in all the affected states.
"I feel there is a need to initiate a policy at the national level. Maoism is not a state problem. It is a problem of the country", he said.
"We need to go forward and focus on development and progress of these areas. The state government has given an assurance to the Maoists on forming a committee and we have kept our word. The committee will take stock of pending cases and the so called delay in trials," said the Chief Minister. "I also personally feel that there should be no negotiations even if the Chief Minister is abducted. This is my personal opinion," he added
From Mr Singh's comments it appears that Mr Menon would continue as the collector of the region.
After Mr Alex's release questions were raised if the state government got into some kind of deal with the Maoists for his release. The chief minister and the government negotiators have denied this. "There has been no secret deal. All that was agreed upon was that there would be a review committee that will look into their demands and how systems can be improved. This review committee has already started work," said SK Mishra who was negotiating from the government's side for the release of Mr Menon.
"The release of the innocent tribals is one demand. The Government appointed committee promised that, once the collector is released, they will take up the 347 cases and promised to release maximum number tribals if found innocent," added Professor Hargopal, the mediator who was negotiating between the Maoists and the government.
Mr Hargopal said the state government had made it clear during the negotiation process that unless the Collector was released, it would not be able to promise anything. "Now that the Collector has been released, whatever demands have been made by the Maoists will be taken up by the committee," he said, adding that issues which had been put on paper and those made informally by the state authorities would be dealt with.
The 32-year-old IAS officer was handed over to two mediators - BD Sharma and Professor G Hargopal - who represented the Maoists in their talks with the Chhattisgarh government at Tadmetla yesterday. He was kidnapped from a public meeting in Sukma on April 21. On being released the Collector yesterday, Mr Menon only said,"I am fine. I will speak after a day. I want to go home to my family first."
Mr Menon's wife told NDTV yesterday that the Collector is concerned about the families of the two policemen, who were killed during his abduction. She added that she will support her husband if he wants to remain in Sukma.
Mr Menon's release came as a huge relief to his father-in-law TR Venugopal in Chennai. He had tears of joy in his eyes when he first heard the good news. He told NDTV that he is overjoyed with the news of the release of his son-in-law. Earlier on Thursday morning, he had said he woke up early, had an oil bath, considered auspicious and distributed sweets in anticipation.
On Tuesday evening, the Maoists had issued a statement to the BBC saying they would hand over the Collector to the mediators today, May 3. They left Raipur in a helicopter a little before 8 this morning and reached Chintalnar by 8:30 am. At Chintalnar, there were joined by former MLA from Konta district, Manish Kunjam, to accompany them to Tadmetla, a rebel-dominated forested area in the Sukma district where the Maoists said they would release the Collector.
There were several rounds of negotiations before the Maoists agreed to release the Collector under a pact that the state will set up a committee headed by Nirmala Buch, one of the two government mediators, to review the cases of all prisoners languishing in Chhattisgarh jails, including 17 jailed Maoist leaders. Mr Menon's abductors had initially demanded the release of these 17 people, a halt to the anti-Maoist offensive and sending security forces in Bastar back to the barracks, in exchange for Mr Menon. But the agreement finally reached does not envisage the release of any jailed Maoists.
Mr Menon is an asthma patient and when he was abducted his wife had said he had medicines to last him about two days. Last week, the Maoists sent an e-mail to the media, explaining why they had kidnapped Mr Menon. The e-mail said that the Sukma Collector was engaged in anti-Maoist activities in the region; which is why he became their target. Mr Menon is said to be very popular in the area as was evident with the crowds outside his home.
Story first published:
May 04, 2012 08:41 IST