Lull shattered: Maoists abduct Orissa District Collector
Krishna, a 2005-batch IAS officer was coming back after attending a public-contact programme in Kudumulgumma block in the cut-off areas of Malkangiri when three to four armed Maoists abducted him and two other junior engineers (JE) at Jantapai area, a little more than 3 hours drive from Malkangiri district headquarters.
The Maoists later released one of the JEs with a letter demanding immediate halt to Operation Greenhunt and release of Maoists lodged in jails within 48 hours. District officials said Krishna and junior engineer Majhi were still in Maoist custody somewhere in the dense jungles of Andhra-Orissa border.
Speaking to The Indian Express, state home secretary U N Behera ruled out any commando-type action while hinting that some kind of trade-off may be worked out to secure the district collector and the JE's release. "Any commando action would endanger their lives. But to initiate any action we need to establish contacts which we have not been able to do so far," said Behera. Preliminary reports said the abduction seems to be the handiwork of Andhra-Orissa Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC) of the Maoists that covers the four north coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh - East Godavari, Visakhapatnam, Vijayanagaram and Srikakulam - and the five southern Orissa districts of Malkangiri, Rayagada, Gajapati, Koraput and Nabrangpur.
Malkangiri project director of District Rural Development Agency, Balwant Singh who accompanied Krishna at the public contact programme in Badapada GP of Kudumulgumma block yesterday afternoon, said afterthe public contact programme in Badapada GP attended by hundreds of tribals, the collector headed to Papermetla village in Kudumulgumma to inspect some work. "The public contact programme was a huge success. The programme was organised to distribute old age pensions and hear the grievances of the villagers. After the meeting, he left for Papermetla at 3.30 pm by motorbike and that was the last I saw him. Collector, who had the JE on his pillion, was abducted at Jantapai while coming back from Papermetla around 5 pm," said Singh.Krishna did not have a PSO with him when the abduction happened.
Earlier in the day Krishna accompanied by district officials launched electrification work in Siligumma village of Raleguda GP, the first village in the cut-off area to be electrified after independence. The cut-off areas are 150-odd villages on Andhra-Orissa border water-locked by the Chitrakonda reservoir after the construction of two major hydel projects. Without any development, the remote cut-off area has therefore become a safe haven for Maoists. In June 2008, 38 Greyhounds personnel of Andhra Pradesh were drowned to death when Naxals sank their motor launch in the Chitrakonda reservoir near Alampakka.
Krishna, an IIT Madras civil engineering graduate, joined the IAS in 2005. The 30-year-old is easily one of the few brightest IAS officers of Orissa and is known for his administrative skills and honesty. He proved his mettle during the 2008 Kandhamal riots when he was posted as sub-collector of Baliguda sub-division of the district. "His efforts in reaching out to riot victims was highly commendable," said Kandhamal collector Dr Krishan Kumar. Meanwhile, back at home his disconsolate wife and a one-and-half-year-old son are anxiously awaiting news of his whereabouts. Krishna's IAS batchmates and colleagues have been trying the best to keep up the morale of the officer. His parents who stay in Bangalore are rushing to Malkangiri.
"Working in the treacherous terrains of Malkangiri requires lots of guts. Krishna was posted there because of his commitment to work," said a senior IAS officer.
The incident, has sent shockwaves among IAS officers of the state, who have been posted to various Maoist-affected districts. Krishna during his tenure as collector Malkangiri for last 16 months had become extremely popular among local tribals through his pro-people programmes. As a result, very few tribals joined Maoist ranks in recent months. Director of Census Bishnupada Sethi said Krishna's efforts were crucial which helped conduct the houselisting operations without any hitch in Maoist-affected district.
Sharing borders with deeply Maoist-afflicted states like Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh, Orissa has found itself constrained in dealing with the armed rebels as they progressively extend their areas of operations. While 15 of Orissa's 30 Districts have, over the years, witnessed Maoist violence and mobilization, it is the border Districts which have been the worst affected.
Maoists in Malkangiri work in close coordination with their comrades from across the borders in Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The Maoists function through their dalams (squads), and those operating in Malkangiri currently include the Kalimela dalam, the Poplur dalam, the Motu dalam, the Jhanjavati dalam, and the Korkonda dalam, among others.
The Collector and some of his officials, who had ventured into deep areas of Badapada gram panchayat, were intercepted by a group of armed cadres, who reportedly took the Collector hostage. While the State police frantically tried to find a clue to his whereabouts, Krishna remained untraceable. Director-General of Police Manmohan Praharaj said he cannot comment anything about it at this stage.
Krishna, along with Project Director, District Rural Development Agency, Balawant Singh, another IAS officer, and about four more district-level officials had headed to Badapada gram panchayat, located in Chitrakonda reservoir, this morning to hold the public awareness camp.
Preliminary reports reaching here said the group finished the camp, but Krishna and three others took two bikes to inspect some more areas. It is then that Krishna is believed to have walked into the Maoists' area, who were aware of his visit. Sources said Krishna was escorted by two junior engineers (JEs) and an NGO worker after the camp. They took two bikes to venture into nearby areas and headed in different directions.
Latest reports said the JE, accompanying the 36-year-old IAS officer, was set free by the Maoists. He carried a letter which had given the Government 24 hours to withdraw the security forces and free the ultras lodged in different jails. ADG (Operations) Sanjib Marik said the Collector has been untraceable since afternoon and there has been no contact with him after the camp.
The officials had headed from Chitrakonda to Janbai, a distance of 10 km, by road. At Janbai, they took a boat to Badapada GP, which is located in Chitrakonda reservoir. The day's meeting went off well but soon after, Krishna went missing. The cut-off areas of Malkangiri, in the midst of the reservoir, comprises six gram panchayats with about 151 villages. Far from the mainland, these areas, contiguous to Andhra Pradesh, are haven for the Maoists because of their terrains.
The place where Krishna was abducted is about 2 to 4 km drive from Malkangiri district headquarters depending on road conditions. Police sources said Maoists from Andhra Pradesh may have been behind the abduction. Malkangiri is one of the districts acutely-affected by Naxalism.
SOurce: Indian Express