NEW DELHI: Seeking to formalize negotiations as a uniform policy to deal with hostage situation caused by Maoists, the Centre will suggest setting up of a standing crisis management group (CMG) in each naxal-affected state for swift response. The CMG, according to a draft hostage policy formulated by the Centre, will be led by state chief secretary, who will assess the situation before preparing a counter-strategy that must be approved by the state’s political dispensation.
Interestingly, the proposed hostage policy – circulated to the states some time ago – makes room for swap deals, unless the Maoists sought to be released in exchange for the hostages are hardcore cadres charged with sedition or heinous crimes. The Centre’s alleged ‘nod’ for swapping Maoist sympathizers and cadres facing minor charges for hostages runs contrary to the stand taken by Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh after abducted Sukma district collector Alex Paul Menon was released earlier this year following protracted negotiations.
Singh had disapproved of swap deals with the Naxalites, even where the hostage happened to be the CM himself. Now, there is no uniform policy for dealing with hostage crisis across the Naxal-hit states. The high-profile abductions of Menon in Chhatisgarh, apart from that of IAS officer R Vineel Krishna, two Italians and BJD MP Jhina Hikaka in Odisha, had made the Centre notice the lack of uniformity in response of the state governments concerned.
A hostage policy was subsequently sought by former Union home minister P Chidambaram. As per the draft hostage policy, the CMG in the state facing a hostage situation will set up a panel to negotiate with the Maoists. The panel, apart from comprising representatives of the state government and independent persons who enjoy Naxals’ confidence, will have to mandatorily include experts with professional training in handling hostage situations. Such courses, sources told TOI, are offered by some leading security agencies of the West and the Naxal-affected states will be required to depute officers to undergo these training programmes.
The ground rules proposed for negotiations require the panel to engage the abductors to ensure that the hostage is safe while in their custody. A possible failure of negotiations has to be factored in at the time of preparing the counter-strategy, and a back-up plan must be in place. The back-up plan will involve action by the security forces to rescue the hostages. Keen to have the hostage policy in place soon, the Centre has on October 18 convened the chief secretaries and DGPs of nine Naxal-hit states here to discuss its terms.
Sources said the other issues that will figure in the deliberations are standard operating procedures (SOPs) proposed for operations, where Naxalites are found to be using local tribals as human shields. The meeting will also dwell upon possible replication of the successful anti-Maoist operations in Saranda forests of Jharkhand and in Bastar region of Chhattisgarh. Review of development initiatives, including implementation of the Forest Rights Act, recruitment of tribal youth from affected areas, and constitution of a special investigative team to probe Naxal attacks, will also be discussed.