Thursday, February 24, 2011

Collector abducted in Orissa – have you heard of Malkangiri earlier !

There are photos circulating in internet of the house of the telecom minister arrested in Navi Mumbai as also his farm house at Kausali in Himachal Pradesh.   Perhaps these are  miniscule representation of the democratic loot!  In the six decades of democracy crores of money have been looted by dishonest politicians, bureaucrats and others.  In land where there is huge gap between rich and poor, where the basic needs of people are not met in many places – the power and opulence of some really needs some tough action, which all these long years have not been coming.   In some ways they are immune to any action.  Gandhi’s words of ‘ a good government is no substitute to self government’ cannot be accepted at this stage when self governance only means looting of public money.

There is also the flawed Govt policy of resettling refugees from neighbouring Bangladesh and Burma and not controlling influx from Pakistan, which is leading to creation of pockets of lawlessness.  

There is the state of Orissa (Odisha) where there woes of suffering.  This state in the eastern coast is the modern name of ancient Kalinga.  There are 30 administrative districts and the lesser known Malkangiri is in news for wrong reasons.  It is a land of dense forests, small rivers, undulating plateaus and rich tribal culture.  It is mythologically important place.  Legend connects it to The Ramayana, that the environs of river Tamasa encouraged Saint Balmiki to record Ramayana.  There are places which are believed to have been visited by Rama and Sita.  Also during the agnyata vasa (period of exile) Pandavas are believed to have spent a period in the dense forests here.  The community of Koyas worship a sword believing it to be the weapon of Pandavas.

Laxman Naiko, a great freedom fighter hailed from this place and led the tribals in non cooperation against the British.  A demonstration was held in Mathili in 1942; police opened fire and killed some demonstrators.  They foisted a case against Laxman Naiko for the death of a forest guard for which he was accused and arrested.  He was sentenced to death.  Advocate Radha Charan Das of Berhampur and famous freedom fighter Uma Charan Pattnaik of Berhampur went to Patna High Court for an appeal which was finally rejected.  Quite tragically this patriot was hanged at Berhampur jail in 1943.

In its earlier days Malkangiri was a part of Madras Presidency. In 1936, Koraput District from Madras Presidency merged in Orissa and Malkangiri Tahasil war included in Koraput District. In 1st January, 1962, Malkangiri Sub-Division came into existence. In 1958, Dandakaranya Development Project was implemented to settle the refugees coming from East Pakistan. This project was continued for 30 years until it was declared closed in the year 1988.    In Oct 1992, Malkangiri was identified as a District carved out of Koraput.    

The present day Malkangiri  is a notified area – a home of bangle refugees and also housed  Lankan tamil refugees.  Last week a  District Collector Mr. R Vineet Krishna was kidnapped by the Maoists in Orissa.  The senior IAS officer was abducted in Malkangiri district on 16th Feb 11,  when he was coming from an interaction programme in Gumma block of tribal-dominated Malkangiri.  The press reported that as being the first time of Maoists kidnapping an IAS officer in Orissa.   According to the official sources, Mr. Vineet Krishna was in Badapada area and was moving on a motorcycle. 30 years old Krishna is an IIT-Madras graduate and he joined administrative services in 2005. He was appointed as the Collector of Malkangiri about 16 month ago. He has been  interacting closely with the local people thus he is more popular.

The incident was widely reported but has not created any shockwaves in the administration or amongst people outside.  The initial reaction of the Home Secretary was to condemn the incident and stating that there was not need for any operation to release and that the State Govt. would negotiate and get his release !  - what words from the administration.   The Collector is the official in charge of the entire gamut of governance and are officers of Indian Administrative Service and are the most powerful Govt. officials entrusted with handling law & order, revenue collection, taxation, and more.  

More than a week after the abduction, the collector remains in the custody of the banned rebels.  A junior engineer Pabitra Majhi of the banks of Balimela reservoir at Jal bai village was released yesterday.  There have been parleys and newspaper reports indicate that they are seeking release of some accused of criminal acts.  Among the demands put forward by the Maoists was the release of senior party leaders Sriramalu Srinivalasalu and Ganti Prasadam. While Prasadam was granted bail by the Orissa High Court  recently , Srinivasalu's bail application is to come up soon.   

A war by the State against its own people or people revolting against the State is not welcome for a democracy.  But as I started, the experiment of democracy would work fine with mature State and refined leaders.  Sadly enough, the rebels in the peripheries of our system are also missing the woods for trees and are wasting their time, burning down schools and kidnapping honest District Magistrates!

Regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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Post script :  25th Feb 2011 :  The district magistrate of Malkangiri R Vineel Krishna, who was abducted by the Maoists nine days back, was freed by his captors yesterday evening  bringing to an end the worst ever hostage crisis in the state.  Krishna was released in a praja court convened by Maoists in Tentuliguda forest near Duliamba in Malkangiri district in the presence of hundreds of tribals and media representatives.  It is reported that he appeared to be in good health and stated that he was not subjected to any physical or mental torture during the captivity.
The Maoists had called for the release of Srinivasulu, Ashutosh, and Shobha, after Orissa government had already conceded 14 original demands. Junior engineer Pabitra Mohan Majhi, kidnapped along with Krishna on February 16, was released on Wednesday and carried with him a letter containing the fresh demands.  The government agreed to release Ganti Prasad whose bail application was heard in a Koraput court on Thursday, apart from Padma, Ishwari, Sarita and Gokul. The key Naxals whose release was sought but rejected by the government are Srinivasulu and Ashutosh. Shobha, another dreaded Maoist, is in a Jharkhand jail and the Orissa government said it would take up her release with that state.

After being released inside forest near Doliambo village, Krishna moved in a motorcycle to Janvai ghat from where he crossed the Balimela reservoir in a motorboat to reach Chitrakonda. From there, he traversed the 60-km stretch between Chitrakonda and Malkangiri town in a four-wheeler, amid cheers from hundreds of people.

There was moving news of his driver Shankar Rao having spent eight days on the shores of the Balimela reservoir, arriving at five in the morning and leaving only after darkness fell, waiting for the moment when he could take Mr. Krishna back home.  News reports state that as  Mr. Krishna stepped off the motorboat, Mr. Rao opened the car door and prepared to take his place behind the wheel. Mr. Krishna rushed to embrace him as Mr. Rao broke down. “Why are you crying?”

A happy ending for the Collector, his family and for the people as nothing untoward happened to the captor.  But for the State a huge set back as they appeared to have acceded to all the demands.  It is time State sets off a strong policy and addresses to the needs of people especially tribals ensuring that these things do not recur again…..

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