New Delhi, April 26, 2012
Alex Paul Menon
Communist Party of India (CPI) leader and former MLA Manish Kunjam, who was rushed by the Chhattisgarh government to deliver medicines for abducted Sukma Collector and District Magistrate Alex Paul Menon, today said the official was safe and in good health.
Speaking to reporters after his return to Sukma this morning, Kunjam said he had gone for two tasks: to deliver the medicines for Menon, who is said to be a patient of asthma, and to enquire about his health.
"I have carried out both these tasks," he said, but, despite persistent queries, declined to say whether he had actually met Menon.
Kunjam was expected to brief the district administration about his visit and later fly to Raipur to brief state government officials.
Also today, the mediators appointed by the state government and the Maoists to negotiate the release of Menon are expected to begin their task today.
The Chhattisgarh government has named former Chief Secretaries Nirmala Buch of Madhya Pradesh and S K Mishra of Chhattisgarh as its mediators on April 24.
The Maoists had named three mediators a day earlier to negotiate on their behalf, but one of them, senior Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan, said he would talk to the Maoists only after they released the 32-year-old Menon.
He appealed to the Maoists with all the moral authority at his command to release Menon unharmed and unconditionally.
"In my view kidnapping a civilian officer and holding him as a hostage is not right. Maoists should release the officer unconditionally. Most of the demands of the Maoists are justified, but I cannot negotiate with the Maoists in this situation," he told mediapesons.
The others named by the Maoists are B D Sharma, a former Collector of the undivided Bastar district and an expert on tribal issues, and Kunjam, a former MLA from Konta district.
The state government had rushed medicines through Kunjam after the Maoists had issued a statement on Tuesday morning saying that Menon was in a bad state.
Kunjam had declined to participate in the mediation process but had volunteered to carry medicines to the kidnapped officer. Menon's wife Asha had earlier said that he was carrying medicines for only two days with him.
The Maoists had later suggested the name of Prof G Hargopal as one of their negotiators and he is expected to reach Chhattisgarh soon.
Menon, 32, the first Collector and District Magistrate of the newly-formed district, was taken hostage by a group of Maoists on Saturday. He is an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer of the 2006 batch.
Media reports said the Maoists had demanded the release of eight of their imprisoned colleagues and a halt to the operations launched by security forces against them in exchange for the freedom of the official. They also wanted the withdrawal of all Central forces from the state.
Two of Menon's security guards were shot dead by the Maoists who waylaid his vehicle near Keralapal area in the district when he was on his way back to the district headquarters after attending a "Gram Swaraj Abhiyan" - a state government-run programme - in a village.
Gram Swaraj is a programme aimed at ensuring better coordination between people in the villages and the administration.
Menon has been Collector of the district since January 6, 2011. In earlier postings, he has served as Additional Collector in Dhamtari and in Jagdalpur.
Menon's wife Asha issued an appeal on Saturday to the Naxalites, urging them to release her husband. She pointed out that they were married only a few months ago and he had always worked for the welfare of the people of the area.
Menon is the second IAS officer to be kidnapped by the Maoists in recent times. In February last year, the left-wing extremists had abducted the Collector and District Magistrate of Malkangiri in neighbouring Odisha, R Vineel Krishna and held him hostage for eight days before freeing him after the state government agreed to several conditions laid down by them.