District Collector R V Krishna, who has been kidnapped by Maoists, on Thursday remained untraced even as the authorities launched 'back channel' efforts to seek the release of the IAS officer from the custody of the Naxalites.
In perhaps the first-ever abduction of an IAS officer by Maoists, the 30-year-old district collector of Malkangiri was kidnapped on Wednesday evening by a group of 50 Maoists when he was on a visit to the remote Chitrakonda area, a Maoist stronghold, to attend a camp for local development, said the police.
The officer was taken hostage after he went from the public interaction camp held at Badapada bordering Andhra Pradesh to inspect a nearby culvert on a motorcycle along with two junior engineers and another person, Chitrakonda Tehsildar D Gopal Krishnan said.
While the collector and a junior engineer were held hostage, two others reached Badapada late on Thursday night with a letter and handed it over to senior officials, he said. The Maoists have set a two-day deadline for the authorities to fulfil their demands to halt the anti-Naxal operations and release jailed ultras.
The exact location of the officer is being ascertained, Superintendent of Police Anirudh Singh said.
In Delhi, Home Secretary G K Pillai said, "He (Krishna) was abducted by the Maoists and they sent the engineer back with a chit asking for their so called demands. The state government and other officers are working on this".
Strongly condemning the abduction, Pillai said, "I don't think there is any need for any operation to release him. I am sure that the local support that he has and the state government will be able to negotiate and get his release."
"I think it will take some time because the area is quite cut off, but back-channel efforts are underway. I think it will take a few days but we are quite confident of getting him back," he said.
Terming Krishna's abduction as 'unfortunate', Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik made an appeal for his early release and said all options were being evaluated by the government which was closely monitoring the situation.
Chief Secretary B K Patnaik said the letter sent by the Maoists was apparently written by the abducted collector in his own handwriting. The letter demanded an immediate halt to anti-Maoist joint operations and the release of all those lodged in jails on charges of being Maoists.
Steps were being taken for the early and safe release of Krishna, a 2005 batch IAS officer, Patnaik said.
Social activist Swami Agnivesh offered to help the government if his services were sought for the safe release of the officer.
"I would like to appeal to the Maoists who have taken Krishna as a captive not to cause any bodily harm to him," he said, noting that the Naxalites should give up their deadline of two days for the authorities to meet their demands.
The incident has also rocked the state assembly with Opposition Congress storming the well of the House and asking the Biju Janata Dal government to spell out the steps being taken for his release.
The assembly was adjourned twice following the uproar, with the Congress demanding an immediate statement on the issue by the government. Though it was immediately not clear as to where the collector had been taken, he is believed to have been kept somewhere in Janbai area, close to Andhra Pradesh, official sources said.
The area, covered with dense forests, is inaccessible, they said, adding Krishna along with other officials had gone to the place after crossing Gurupriya River by a boat. Communication links with many areas in Chitrakonda were snapped as the ultras allegedly damaged a mobile tower in the area, the sources said.
BJD leader Jay Panda said, "The government is actually doing a lot of things behind the scenes in trying to tap the source of the network of informers and trying to locate Krishna".
Panda said that the collector had been helping the tribals by conducting remote camps to provide relief to them on various issues. The incident has shocked the people in Malkangiri district. Most shops and business establishments remained closed and roads witnessed thin traffic, they said.
A rally was taken out in the district headquarter town by volunteers from different sections of the society demanding early release of the collector. Sources said the government was trying to handle the matter with utmost care and caution while trying all channels for Krishna's release.