”If the government wants,I would like to remain in Sukma,” said Collector Alex Paul Menon,soon after he was released unharmed by Maoists after 12 days in captivity.
After 12 days in captivity,Sukma Collector Alex Paul Menon was today released unharmed by Maoists bringing to an end the hostage crisis in Chhattisgarh marked by some anxious moments just before he stepped out of the rebel stronghold.
The 32-year-old 2006-batch IAS officer,abducted on April 21 at Sukma,about 450 km from here,was handed over to the two Maoist mediators,B D Sharma and Prof G Hargopal,at Tadmetla in the evening and brought by road to the CRPF base camp at Chintalnar,a 30-minute drive by road.
Menon,who is an asthmatic and for whom medicines had to be rushed last week,thanked Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh,the state authorities,the mediators from the government and the Maoist side,his family and friends,saying but for their cooperation his release would have been delayed.
“I am ok,” Menon said when asked how his health was and when pressed further said,”I am tired,shattered. I would like to go home.”
Menon,whose wife is pregnant and is at Sukma where he is posted,about 150 km from Chintalnar,said he would speak to newsmen later.
When asked whether he would like to continue to hold his post in Sukma,Menon said,”I will work wherever government will ask me. If they want me to remain here (in Sukma),I will do so.”
The IAS officer said he would proceed to Sukma tomorrow after taking rest at the CRPF camp. He also telephoned the chief minister at 6.55 pm and thanked the state government for its “sincere effort” in securing his release.
Confusion prevailed over Menon’s release in the afternoon after the local media reported that he was set free but there was no official confirmation.
It was only after a three-hour anxious wait that Menon appeared in public and before the local media.
Ram Niwas,ADGP(anti-Naxal operations),said the IAS officer was fine but he would receive necessary medical check-up In Chennai. Menon’s father A Varadhas profusely thanked Chhattisgarh authorities for their efforts.
N Baijendra Kumar,Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister,said the state government immediately issued orders to form a review committee under an agreement to do so within an hour after the release of the Collector.
The agreement that was reached by the two mediators each of the Chhattisgarh government and the Maoists at their fourth round of talks on April 30 paved the way for the release of the IAS officer.
Under the agreement,the government had agreed to set up a high-powered committee under the chairmanship of Nirmala Buch,one of the two Government mediators,to review the cases of all prisoners languishing in Chhattisgarh jails,including the cases demanded by the Maoists.
Chief Minister Raman Singh said the three-member committee,which also included the Chief Secretary and the DGP,would be meeting right away.
The Maoists’ mediators reached Chintalnar village in Sukma district by a helicopter earlier in the day and then proceeded by road to secure Menon’s release from a rebel-dominated forested area.
Menon had a brief press interaction at Chintalnar where the media camped the whole day awaiting his release and he again thanked authorities.
The Collector said he would like to meet his family members before speaking about the kidnap episode.
Suspense mounted over Menon’s release after a chopper that was used to ferry the mediators to the Naxals this morning returned to Chintlanar this evening but flew back within minutes. The chopper landed again but took to the skies quickly fuelling speculation whether he was being still kept hostage since it was to take the Collector.
After the local media at Tadmetla reported that the Collector was released,there was no sign of the IAS officer who was to have been brought to Chintlanar,a 30-minute drive,for over three hours.
After the initial reports,Menon’s father said the family was relieved that the trauma was finally over only to go through some anxious moments briefly. Crackers were burst and sweets also distributed at their Chennai residence even before the official emerged out in full public view.
P K Venugopal,the collector’s father-in-law,said his daughter will be very happy. “She had low blood pressure yesterday and since news of Menon’s release,she has been feeling better,” he added.