Sukma (Chhattisgarh): The Chhattisgarh Police today claimed to have got some vital clues in the abduction case of Sukma District Collector Alex Paul Menon by Naxals.
Additional Director General of Police (anti-Naxal operations) Ram Nivas said that police has got some important clues but refused to elaborate due to security reasons.
He said police has quizzed the officials who had taken part in the Gram Suraj Abhiyan programme at Majhipara village, during which 32-year-old Menon was abducted yesterday.
Sources have, meanwhile, told NDTV that the Collector ignored repeated warnings by the police that he could be kidnapped.
Mr Menon was told that he should take proper precautions and not move around without adequate security as there were clear indications that he could be kidnapped, sources said. Despite that, he chose to go ahead with his meeting with a group of villagers for a government outreach programme without informing the local police, they added.
The Chhattisgarh Police have launched a massive search operation but they are yet to find a clue about Mr Menon's whereabouts.
Police officials posted in Sukma district searched certain parts of the forest area adjoining Andhra Pradesh in the early hours of Sunday. "But he is so far completely traceless, we have no idea at which part of their hideouts the rebels have kept him hostage," officials said.
The Maoists have so far made no communication with the authorities. Sources also added that the state government and the police department were eagerly waiting for a message or demands from the Maoists.
The locals have, meanwhile, called for a bandh today in Sukma to protest the kidnapping of the Collector. The bandh has affected public transport in the district. All shops are also closed.
A 2006 batch officer, Alex Menon took over as the first Collector of Sukma in January 2012 after it was carved out of Dantewada as a new district. He belongs to Tamil Nadu and his in-laws are in Chennai. His father-in-law spoke exclusively to NDTV appealing to Maoists to release him.
"My son-in-law is from Tamil Nadu and he went there only for employment sake. He never did any wrong to anybody, neither my daughter. Now this kind of threat is on our head. His securitymen were also killed. The Maoists will have to think why they are doing all these things? And they have to save the precious life," said TR Venugopalan, kidnapped Collector's father-in-law.
The Collector's wife who is expecting the couple's first child too made an emotional appeal to the Maoists to release him on health grounds. "His medical condition is not very good. He has asthma. I request the government and the Maoists to understand that he only has two dosages with him, which is not sufficient. He will not be able to cope if any emergency situation arises. He has done so much for the district's development. I only request that they should release my husband as soon as possible," Asha Alex, Mr Menon's wife said.
The Collector's family said on Saturday night that he was aware of the threat of possible kidnap of officials in the region but that never deterred him from responding to the call of duty even as they appealed to Maoists and to the government for his release.
The kidnapping took place at around 4-4:30 pm in a remote village where Alex Paul Menon was attending the Gram Suraj Abhiyaan - a state government-run programme meant to promote greater coordination and connect between the villagers and administration. The Naxals were present there disguised as villagers. Suddenly, they began the attack. His PSOs were attacked first; the securitymen, before dying, killed one of the Maoists on the spot. "After firing, sir (Collector) was waiting and then sat in the car. I told him there is no gunman. We were waiting for his gunman but suddenly, a few armed men came in front of the car and I had to stop. They asked 'who is the Collector?' Sir said 'I am the Collector'. They took him away," said Mr Menon's driver. Meanwhile, another group of motorcycle-borne Maoists arrived at the spot and whisked away the 32-year-old Collector.
There were more than 50 Naxals involved in the kidnapping, directly or indirectly, mostly from the women cadre.
Union Home Minister P Chidambaram has asked for a detailed report on Mr Menon's abduction. He also spoke to Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh and assured him all help, including provisioning of extra security forces, if required. The Chief Minister has said that no demands have been received by the Maoists so far. "We are talking to the IG and SP on this issue...We will take all necessary steps to release him," Mr Singh said.
Home Ministry sources have told NDTV that the sudden rise in the kidnappings is because the Naxals are under a lot of pressure, not only because their senior cadres have either been killed or arrested, but also because of the operations launched by the special forces. The Maoists want their cadres to be released and these operations to be halted.
The village from where Mr Menon was abducted is situated between Gadiras and Keralapal, areas that lie in the Sukma district which is a known Maoist stronghold. He was actively involved in the village programme and had a reputation of being a dynamic officer. The state government's initiative, that involves the administration reaching out to villages in Naxal-affected areas to bring them back into the mainstream and foster development, had reportedly upset the Maoists. Significantly, the brazen attack by the Maoists precedes the Left ultras targeting senior officials from the neighbouring district of Bijapur on Friday while they were returning after visiting a remote village in connection with the Gram Suraj Abhiyaan. The Collector of Bijapur and the local MLA escaped the landmine blast triggered by the rebels but three people in another car in the convoy were killed.
Interestingly, the location from where the Collector has been kidnapped is around 200 kilometres away from the Koraput district in Odisha where a legislator from the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) is under Maoist captivity for nearly a month now.
Jhina Hikaka was abducted by Maoists on March 24 from the Koraput district while he was returning home from a political meeting. The Maoists have demanded the release of 29 prisoners in exchange for the Laxmipur MLA. The government has so far agreed to facilitate the release of only 25 prisoners including eight Maoists. It has also agreed to drop charges against 13 of them - including five Maoists.
Mr Menon's abduction is also a grim reminder of last year's kidnapping of R Vineel Krishna, the Collector of Malkangiri, by Maoists in Odisha. The state government was forced to withdraw cases against five persons including a senior Maoist leader to secure the release of the young Collector.