Panchayati Raj Secretary P.K. Jena, one of the State government representatives negotiating with the Maoists, announced the names of 25 persons to be freed from jails to secure Jhina Hikaka's release.

With the deadline set by the Maoists holding BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka hostage ending today, his fate still remained unknown despite the Odisha government’s decision to seriously consider withdrawal of prosecution in “suitable cases” involving jailed rebels if the ultras free the legislator.

There has been no response so far from the CPI (Maoist)’s Andhra-Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee, which abducted the 37-year-old tribal MLA from Laxmipur on March 24, after the State government announced its decision last evening.

The State government was, however, hopeful that the MLA would be set free by the Maoists in view of the steps taken by it for the release of prisoners on bail and its promise to consider withdrawal of prosecution.

Fresh appeals were, in the meantime, made from various quarters including the government and family members of the MLA for his immediate release unharmed and in good health before the deadline this evening.

The announcement came hours after the Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC) in a message yesterday pressed the state government to make its stand clear on the release of jailed rebels sought by it in exchange for the freedom of the MLA.

“If release of the tribal MLA takes place by 5 pm, the deadline set by the Maoists, the government will seriously consider withdrawal of prosecution in suitable cases,” Panchayati Raj Secretary P.K. Jena told reporters.

“The government has already declared that it would facilitate release of 25 persons including 17 members of Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha and eight of the CPI (Maoist),” said Mr. Jena, one of the three State government representatives, who negotiated with Maoist mediators in resolving the Italian hostage crisis.

For the sake of clarity, the senior officer once again announced the names of 25 persons to be freed from jails and said the bail process for the prisoners had also gained momentum.

In a positive development, Mr. Hikaka spoke to Chief Secretary B.K. Patnaik and Koraput district Collector J.S. Ramachandra on Tuesday and informed them that he was in good health.