Maoists on Thursday produced abducted ruling Biju Janata Dal MLA Jhina Hikaka before a people's court to decide his fate, a day after the Odisha government said it would withdraw cases against 13 prisoners in exchange for freedom of the tribal legislator.
As already communicated by the Maoists of the Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee, the praja court has started its proceedings at a remote place in the Narayanpatna area of Koraput district, lawyer Nihar Ranjan Patnaik, who fights cases for the rebels, said.
The 37-year-old Laxmipur MLA was produced before the praja court, Patnaik confirmed, saying the proceedings were in progress and many people, mostly tribals, have been called for recording of their statements.
The Koraput-based lawyer, however, had no idea as to when the praja court proceedings would be completed and the verdict about the MLA's fate pronounced.
The praja court was held a day after the deadline set by the Maoists for fulfilment of their demands expired at 5 pm on Wednesday and the ultras said in a message that the MLA's fate would be decided through this process.
Bowing to demand by Maoists, the state government also announced that it was ready to withdraw prosecution against 13 prisoners, including five Maoists, for securing the release of Hikaka, who was abducted by the Naxals on March 24.
"It has been decided to take steps for withdrawal of prosecution against 13 persons following the due process of law," Home Secretary U N Behera had said Wednesday evening.
Earlier after the expiry of the ultimatum, in a fresh message to the media, a leader of the AOBSZC said it had no faith in the state government and that the fate of the tribal MLA would be decided by a people's court.
The message said the deadline had already been extended four times in the past and there would be no further extension.
The Maoists had demanded that cases of those to be released should be withdrawn and had declined to seek bail as suggested by the state government.
The ultras had dropped the name of hardcore Maoist Chenda Bhusanam alias Ghasi, accused in the killing of 55 policemen, from the list of rebels sought to be freed in exchange for the legislator.
They wanted the lawyer and the MLA's wife Kaushalya to accompany the freed rebels to Balipeta to Narayanpatna area in Koraput district for a hostage-prisoner exchange.
Meanwhile, Ghasi has in a message appealed to the Naxals to release the tribal legislator without further delay on humanitarian ground without causing any harm.
"When the government has proactively taken steps as a goodwill gesture to declare withdrawal of prosecution against 13 persons, I think they should be satisfied and should take appropriate steps to free the MLA," Behera said.
Seven members of the Maoist-backed Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha, had applied for bail with four being granted it, the home secretary said adding the bail of the remaining would be filed soon.
The state government had earlier decided to facilitate release of 25 persons, including eight Maoists and 17 members of the Naxal-backed CMAS for freeing Hikaka.
The MLA's wife made a fresh appeal to the Maoists to free Hikaka without harming him. Appeals were also made by the government.
Meanwhile, a retired army officer has approached the Supreme Court during the day to restrain the Odisha government from meeting the demand of Maoists for releasing jailed rebels.