When he took charge in 2010, Krishna made it a priority to begin works there
The courier came by motorcycle, bearing a personal letter in English for the District Collector's wife and a Maoist statement of demands in Telugu for the district administration.
He rode out, past the village of Janta Pai where Malkangiri Collector R.V. Krishna was abducted by Maoists on February 16, past the police station housing two platoons of the Orissa Special Armed Force in Badapada, down to the tiny pier in Jal Bai village where he heaved his bike onto a motorboat, and crossed over to the mainland of Orissa's Malkangiri district. The courier returned the same day with a reply from Mr. Krishna's wife and a large bag of his clothes, food, shaving razor, and hair oil, and vanished into the ‘cut-off' areas where the Collector was being held hostage.
Malkangiri's cut-off areas rise up like islands, marooned in 1972 by the Balimela hydropower project's reservoir. Beyond the waters lie 389 villages, severed from the rest of the district by a bridge that was inaugurated twice but never built. In the early 1990s, government officials say, cadres of the People's War faction of the Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist) began building their bases in the region. When he took charge in 2010, Mr. Krishna made it a priority to begin works in these areas.
On the day of his abduction, Mr. Krishna put on a checked shirt and stonewashed jeans and left the district headquarters by 7.30 a.m. In the afternoon he took a boat across to Badapada village and made his way, by motorcycle, towards Papermetla village to monitor progress on a check dam. As he returned, he and three companions were stopped outside the Janta Pai village by four armed Maoists and taken back to the village.
“I saw the Collector walking blindfolded with three men and a woman,” said an eyewitness. “They stopped at a shop in Janta Pai where the Collector wrote out a letter and sent it back with his engineers. They sat and talked in Telugu for about an hour and a half and then 25 armed and uniformed Maoists came and took him away.”
In the days following his abduction, villagers from three panchayats of Papermetla, Badapara and Ralegada organised a large rally where they say they walked through the forests looking for Mr. Krishna. “We couldn't meet the Collector but a Maoist leader came out and threatened us,” said a villager who attended the rally, adding that Maoists castigated them for not holding rallies when Maoist cadres were arrested by the police.
Unlike the balkanised “liberated zones” of Chhattisgarh, Maoist control in Malkangiri's cut-off areas seems more fluid. In Chhattisgarh for instance, the local administration deploys 1000 CRPF troopers every few months just to deliver food rations to the Jagargunda police camp in Dantewada district.
In Malkangiri's cut-off areas, Mr. Krishna was able to implement a number of schemes particularly individual benefit schemes like pensions and disability compensation that put money directly in the hands of villagers. On the day of his abduction, he visited a “single window camp” in Badapara where the administration distributed cheques of about Rs. 10 lakh in various pensions. This year, his administration has spent about Rs. 37 lakh in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), of which 85 percent shall go directly to the villagers of the three panchayats that protested against his abduction. Across the district, the administration has spent Rs. 27.5 crore on the MGNREGS this year. When Mr. Krishna arrived a year ago, they had spent about Rs. 4 crore.
“The Collector told us to ignore the fact that we were working in a Maoist area,” said Balwant Singh, Project Director of the District Rural Development Agency. Officials say the administration and the Maoists had arrived at an uneasy truce on development work.
“In one area we began work on a road for the village under the MGNREGS, but when the Maoists stopped the villagers, we took up pond digging work instead,” said an official.
Chitrakonda's Tehsildar D. Gopalakrishnan told reporters that the Maoists had summoned him on more than one occasion and asked him to carry out minor development works like repairing hand pumps. Mr. Krishna himself had visited the area on many occasions, without security cover.
In unrelated conversations with this correspondent, Maoist leaders have opposed road building saying that roads are primarily intended to facilitate the movement of troops in their areas, but said they would not oppose the construction of hospitals, hand-pumps and similar facilities. “It's now going to be very difficult to motivate my officers to work in these areas,” said Mr. Singh.