Alex Menon expected to be freed by tomorrow

Raipur: A day after Maoists` mediators announced that abducted Sukma Collector Alex Paul Menon will be released within 48 hours, on or before May 2, the Chhattisgarh government said it was hopeful that the ten-day hostage crisis will come to an end today and the IAS officer would be freed by tomorrow.

The breakthrough to ensure the safe return of the 32-year-old Collector, who was abducted on April 21, on or before May 2, came in the form of an agreement between the two mediators each of the Chattisgarh government and the Maoists at their fourth round of talks on Monday.

N Baijendra Kumar, Principal Secretary to Chief Minister Raman Singh told PTI today that the agreement has paved way for Menon`s release and he is expected to be freed by tomorrow.

He said Maoists representatives – Dr B D Sharma and Prof. G Hargopal – met the Chief Minister this morning following which they were complimented for carrying out the dialogue process peacefully.

Following this, speaking to PTI, Sharma said the naxals have been apprised about yesterday`s agreement, under which the mediators nominated by Maoists have agreed as a "gesture of goodwill" to ensure the safe return of Menon within 48 hours.
However, Sharma said neither he has heard anything yet from the Maoists` side nor have the mediators` been asked to reach the forests to pick Menon.

Meanwhile, a worried Asha, who has been eagerly awaiting for the release of her kidnapped husband expressed happiness over the agreement and hoped that Menon will return soon to his family.

Menon was taken captive from Majhipara village in Raipur district when he was holding a meeting as part of the government`s special Gram Suraj Abhiyan.

The agreement did not concede the demand by the Maoists for the release of their eight jailed associates in exchange for the freedom of Menon, an asthmatic for whom medicines had to be rushed in deep jungles.

But the statement said government has 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.

The Committee, which will have Chief Secretary and state DGP as members, shall become operational "within an hour" of the release of Menon, according to the two-page agreement, which was initialled by the mediators in the presence of Principal Secretary(Home) N K Aswal on Sunday.

Before the agreement was announced, the Maoists had set a deadline of May 2 for Chhatisgarh government to release eight of their associates. If the demand was not met, the IAS officer`s fate would be decided by a `Jan Adalat`, they had said.