Former chief secretaries of Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh—Nirmala Buch and S K Mishra—have been deputed by the state government for talks with the abductors of the 32-year-old 2006 batch IAS officer, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh told reporters in Raipur.
“Buch and Mishra have been spoken to. They have stated that they will mediate with the Maoist mediators on behalf of the state government,” he said.
“Because the talks process will be starting, there should not be any deadline for resolving the issue,” Singh said. The Chief Minister said even though the president of All India Adivasi Mahasabha Manish Kunjam had refused to mediate, the activist has responded to an appeal by him to carry medicines for Menon, whose condition had been described by the Naxals as “critical”.
“We have been told by the family members that he (Menon) is an asthma patient and his health is deteriorating. Kunjam has agreed to send the medicine kit to Tarimetla village as soon as possible. We are constantly in touch on phone and we are getting information,” the Chief Minister said.
Earlier, Menon's wife Asha had said that Menon was not carrying adequate medicines when he was abducted on Saturday. Meanwhile, Team Anna member and Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan declined to mediate on behalf of the Maoists but appealed to them to unconditionally release the Sukma District Collector.
He also said in Delhi that the demands of the Maoists were “justified” and the government should address the issues facing them.
Hours after the Maoists named him as one of three mediators for negotiations with the government, Bhushan said that he would not mediate on the issue.
“No, I am appealing to the Maoists to unconditionally release the collector. I agree to most of their demands which are justifiable but the Collector should not be used as a bargaining chip,” Bhushan told PTI when asked if he would act as a mediator.
“Menon is an innocent officer. If the government is serious about addressing the root causes of Naxals, I am quite happy to be part of any negotiations then,” he said.
The lawyer said the demands for ending operation ‘Green Hunt' and release of innocent tribals are “justified”. The government should also address issues facing them like handing over large tracts of land to big corporations, he said.
After the Chhattisgarh government offered to hold talks to secure the release of the Sukma district collector, Maoists had last night named three mediators, including former National SC/ST Commission chairperson B D Sharma and Kunjam. Kunjam has declined the Maoists offer citing regional circumstances and party obligations.
In a statement, the Maoists had termed Menon's health as critical and asked the mediators to bring medicines along with them.
The Maoists had asked the state government not to indulge in “delaying tactics” as Menon's health was deteriorating.
They had also said only the three persons named by them will be allowed to negotiate in Tarimetla village and asked them to accept the invitation to act as mediators.
Sharma said, “There is a dispute. It needs to be resolved. Their (Maoists') demands are obvious.” Asked on how should the government react in such a situation, Sharma said, “We would wish both parties to sit down and discuss. That is what should be done and that is happening.”
He said, “The government is guilty of greater crimes... After all what is the government doing? Why there is so much unrest in the tribal areas? This is the question they need to answer.”
Sharma said the tribals were “deprived of a number of thing...They have been denied their own rights.” State government mediator Mishra said, “Our role is to ensure that Menon is released. It is tough because out of the mediators they (Maoists) had apppointed, only one is left.” Buch, the second government nominee for talks, said, “I have accepted to go and try to solve the problem.
“It is not appropriate to say on what basis we will negotiate right now. One must go there with an open mind,” Buch said.
Meanwhile, parliament today voiced concern over the abduction of Collector Alex Paul Menon by Maoists in Chhattisgarh with CPI, AIADMK, DMK and Congress members seeking “meaningful steps” for his release. Raising the issue during Zero Hour in Rajya Sabha, D Raja (CPI) said the incident has haunted the conscience of the nation.
In the Lok Sabha, the issue was raised by AIADMK leader M Thambidurai, who said that the Centre should come out with a strategy to tackle the Maoist problem. He said the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister has written a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the Collector's abduction.
T R Baalu (DMK) wanted the state and central governments to take steps to bring back the Collector. S S Ramsubbu (Cong) supported the demand.
In the Rajya Sabha, Raja condemned the incident and urged the Maoists to release Menon without any further delay and pre-conditions.
“I urge the Centre and state to take meaningful steps to get him released...Menon is one of the courageous, committed and dedicated bureaucrats....I condemn the abduction. It's a great agonising and traumatic experience for his family members,” he said.
Raja also expressed concern over the Maoists adopting such a “disastrous” method and pointed out to the recent abduction of an MLA in Odisha.
Terming the incident as a “serious issue”, he urged the Government to engage political parties to initiate meaningful dialogue and talks to get the bureaucrat released instead of pushing more forces in the areas affected by Maoists.
V Maitreyan (AIADMK) strongly urged the Centre to coordinate with the state government to ensure that the officer is released. He pointed out that Menon, who was posted in Chhattisgarh, belonged to Tamil Nadu and his family members were worried over his abduction. T Siva (DMK) also supported the demand.
Meanwhile, the centre today hoped that the crisis arising out of the abduction of the collector will be resolved soon with the appointment of mediators.
The government is also making arrangement to send medicines to Menon, an asthma patient and whose health condition has been described by his Maoist abductors as “critical”.
“I hope so,” Union Home Secretary R K Singh said when asked whether he thought the hostage crisis will come to an end soon with the appointment of two mediators by the Chhattisgarh government.
Singh said medicines were being sent to Menon as he needed to take them regularly being an asthma patient. “Medicines are being sent. There is somebody who will take the medicines across to the Collector,” he said. In a statement last night, the Maoists had termed Menon's health as critical and asked the mediators to bring medicines along with them.
The Maoists had named Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan, former National SC/ST Commission chairperson B D Sharma and president of All India Adivasi Mahasabha Manish Kunjam as their mediators to hold talks with the government. However, Bhushan and Kunjam have declined to mediate on behalf of the Maoists.
Press release by Maoists