Amid claims by the Centre and the Chhattisgarh government that Maoist activities are on the decline, the state’s forest employees union has written to Chief Minister Raman Singh and, citing the Maoist threat, urged him to immediately stop all departmental works in the interior areas.
Dated March 21, the letter by Umesh Singh, convener of Chhattisgarh Forest Employees Union, is also copied to the Chief Secretary and Forest Secretary as the foresters have threatened to go on an indefinite strike from March 25 if their demands were not met.
A section of the forest employees are already on strike since March 12.
This is probably the first instance in Chhattisgarh when employees of any department have written to the chief minister, urging him to end all works in the Maoist areas.
Their chief demand is the unconditional release of a forest guard Ramsai Vadde, accused of the murder of a tribal Budhram Salam.
On December 24, Maoists abducted Vadde and some labourers when they were working in Edka area of Narayanpur district of Bastar. Maoists made Vadde call Budhram Salam, a resident of his village, and asked him to reach Edka on some pretext.
As Salam arrived at the spot, Maoists released Vadde and others. Salam was found dead next day. Subsequently, police arrested Vadde and charged him with criminal conspiracy to commit the murder of Salam. Some labourers who were working with him were also arrested for the murder.
“Vadde has no role in this. They put a gun on his head and forced him to call Salam, who was a police informer. What do you do if someone threatens you?” Satish Mishra, Forest Union president, told The Indian Express. “Police have thrashed Vadde badly. We demand his unconditional release.”
In his letter, Umesh Singh said, “Forest employees undertake development and departmental works in sensitive areas. It is possible for them to occasionally come across Naxals. Under these circumstances, Naxals can anytime abduct them or force them to do activities of their interest.”
“If we want to prevent Narayanpur-like incidents then entire works of the forest department will have to be immediately stopped in interior areas,” the letter noted.
“If Naxals can abduct senior officers like collectors and relatives of ministers and negotiate for their benefits, then they can anytime abduct forest department employees and force them to meet their demands,” the letter read, expressing “sadness” at the indifference of administration in this matter.
“We are also concerned about his arrest, and trying our best to resolve the issue,” Principal Chief Conservator of Forest Ram Prakash said.