Raipur: After 12 days in captivity, Sukma collector Alex Paul Menon was on Thursday released unharmed by Maoists bringing to an end the hostage crisis in Chattisgarh 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, while touring a village 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.
Tarmetla is situated in an area which is completely dominated by the red insurgents - Maoists had killed 76 paramilitary personnel in April 2010 at the same spot.
On his release the collector thanked everyone who was instrumental in his release.
“I would like to thank my mediators from the sides, my state government, my chief minister and all my friends and family who supported me in this tough time.” When asked whether he will 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."
Nonetheless, the he did seem emotionally drained and the ordeal reflected in his words. “I am tired. I am shattered. I just want to go back home,” Alex Paul Menon said. He added that he was in good health. The DM has witnessed two of his guards shot dead before his eyes when he was abducted and that must have also been traumatic for him.
The Chhattisgarh government made all arrangements to bring out Menon safely from the jungles; an ambulance was also stationed at Chintalnar to meet any possible emergency as he is an asthmatic. From Chintalnar he left for Raipur in a car.
The IAS officer said he will proceed to Sukma only 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 about a three-hour anxious wait did Menon appear in public and produced before the local media.
Ram Niwas, ADGP(anti-Naxal operations), said the IAS officer is fine but he will receive necessary medical checkup
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 Chattisgarh 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 Chattisgarh 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, will be meeting right away.
he 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.
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.
Meanwhile, celebrations started at Alex Menon’s home in Chennai as soon as the news of his freedom came in. Crackers were burst and sweets also distributed at their Chennai residence even before the official emerged out in full public view.
PK 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 said.
Menon, whose wife is in the family way and is at Sukma where he is posted, about 150 km from Chintalnar.
With PTI inputs