Ever since news got around that abducted Sukma collector Alex Paul Menon would be released soon, Jagdish, the owner of the tea stall outside the collectorate has been all smiles.
“Sahab aa rahe hain, ab phir se chahal pahal hogi yahan (Once he is back it will be business as usual),” says Jagdish.
Following Menon’s abduction on April 21, business has been anything but usual at the collectorate that houses nearly 100 staffers. “I carry fewer files from one section to another,” claims Raju (name changed), one of the peons. A section officer also agrees that things have slowed down. “We are disheartened.”
Even a fortnight ago things were very different at the only administrative building in Sukma. “The collector had just started work on various programmes and initiatives,” chips in another official, his table strewn with unattended files.
Recalls Raju, “Saab samai par aaate they aur har samasya ke taraf dhyaan dete they (Saab was very punctual and addressed every issue with care).”
Menon’s room has been lying locked since his abduction.
Locals, who usually throng the collectorate either to register complaints or seek assistance, have also stayed away since. “Everyone has been affected,” said Menon’s stenographer Rakesh Dewangan. “People have been praying, and making appeals to Maoists for Menon’s release.”
Sukma town has an area of 3 sq km. At one end is the transit bungalow-turned-collectorate, across the road is Menon’s official residence and the forest is barely 700 metres away. But the current security arrangements belie the crisis. There are no security personnel or CCTVs at the entrance, and visitors and media persons amble in and out freely.
Meanwhile, sub-divisional magistrate Surendra Vaidya, who was with Menon at the time of the latter’s abduction is keeping his fingers crossed. “The news (of Menon’s impending release) has come as a relief, but we will celebrate only when it actually happens.”