Bhubaneswar - With the hostage crisis worsening and a day to go before the deadline set by the Maoists lapses, Odisha Tuesday offered to withdraw cases against people named by the rebels in exchange for the release of state legislator Jhina Hikaka.
The announcement from the government came hours after a rebel leader gave an ultimatum to the state to clarify its position by Tuesday evening.
Aruna, a rebel leader in an audio message aired by local television channels earlier in the day, said the government should make concrete announcement on the steps it had taken regarding the release of the prisoners.
Rejecting the earlier announcement by the state that the prisoners have to apply for bail through their lawyers, the rebel leader said the government should take the responsibility of processing the bail applications as they (prisoners) have been framed in false cases.
She also said they will release the hostage by 5 p.m. Wednesday if the government gives specific assurance.
Responding to the latest audio message issued by the rebels, state Panchayati Raj Secretary and one of the government mediators, P.K. Jena, said the government will seriously consider the demands.
Appealing the rebels to release Hikaka first in good health and unharmed, Jena said if the rebels release Hikaka by 5 p.m. on April 18 (Wednesday), the government will seriously consider withdrawal of prosecution (against the detainees) in suitable cases.
Regarding the step taken by the government, he said two people whose release had been demanded by the rebels have already obtained bail from the courts. He also added that steps are being taken for the release of some others.
While the Maoists want the government to free 29 prisoners in exchange for the release of the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) lawmaker, the government has said it will release only 25.
Hikaka was kidnapped by the Andhra-Odisha border special zonal committee of the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist in his home district of Koraput March 24.
The Maoists have sought the release of 29 prisoners, mostly members of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh (CMAS), which works mainly in the southern parts of the state, including Malkangiri and Koraput districts, on tribal-related issues.
According to CMAS leader Nachika Linga, the government must withdraw cases against the prisoners on its own as they were innocent and booked on false charges.
CMAS lawyer Nihar Patnaik said the Maoists had told him not to file bail petitions. "They want the government to move the courts under section 321 of the Criminal Procedure Code," he said.
The section empowers a public prosecutor to seek withdrawal of a case at any time before the judgment is pronounced, he added.