Maoists holding the ruling BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka for over a month on Wednesday decided to release the tribal leader on Thursday, a lawyer, who fights cases for the Maoists, said.
"The Maoists have held their 'praja (people's) court' which has pronounced its verdict for releasing the Laxmipur MLA," said Koraput-based lawyer Nihar Ranjan Patnaik.
In this file photo, Orissa MLA Jhinna Hikakka is seen gesturing to journalists in Bhubaneswar. The MLA has been abducted my maoists in Orissa. (AFP Photo)
"A senior leader of the Andhra-Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee of CPI (Maoist) called me and conveyed the verdict of the praja court," he said.
The praja court was held for two days from April 23 and it was decided that the 37-year-old first-time legislator would be released on Thursday morning at Balipeta in the naxal hotbed of Narayanpatna area of Koraput district, Patnaik said.
Hikaka, who had been abducted in the wee hours of March 24 in Koraput, "would be set free in the presence of his wife, Kaushalya Majhi and myself," he said, adding the Maoists were likely to issue a detailed statement soon.
The lawyer, who fights cases for the rebels and their frontal organisation Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS), claimed that during trial in the 'praja' court, Hikaka stated neither the state government nor the legislators helped him during his captivity and only the tribals came to his rescue.
The legislator had also given an undertaking that he would try to get the demands of the Maoists fulfilled and would resign as MLA if he failed, the lawyer claimed.
While the Maoists had demanded release of 29 prisoners in exchange for the MLA's freedom, the state government had decided to facilitate release of 25 jailed people, including eight Maoists.
The Odisha government has also decided to withdraw cases against 13 jailed ultras, including five Maoists, apart from facilitating release of the rest 12 through bail, a senior official said.
At least five of those sought to be released on bail had already been granted bail while the process was in progress for the remaining ultras.
The Maoists had also demanded halt to anti-Naxal operations by the security forces, stoppage of alleged harassment of tribals and return of their land occupied by non-tribals.
Information about the decision of the 'praja' court, believed to have been held somewhere in Narayanpatna area, came as the entire state including the government had been waiting anxiously to hear about the fate of the abducted MLA.
The Maoists had on April 20 announced that the fate of the legislator would be decided at their 'praja' court by April 25 and appeals had been made by different quarters including the state government and Hikaka's family for his immediate release without harm and in good health.
The hostage crisis lingered as the Maoists had refused to take part in negotiations through mediators in order to resolve the issue.
Though the Maoists had initially placed a tough condition that 29 freed rebels be produced at Balipeta along with MLA's wife and the lawyer for hostage-prisoner exchange, they toned down their demand later.