Barkatha (Hazaribagh), July 10: Naxalites took 24 people captive from a camp of the Hindustan Construction Company last night, triggering an unusual chain of events ranging from armed police action in the dark to staggered, as well as unexplained, release of all the hostages.
At the end of a gunbattle, police claimed the capture of a 20-year-old Naxalite activist, Suryamani.
The 24 kidnapped by suspected MCC activists included engineers, a manager, a contractor and a local politician.
Regional inspector-general of police Rajiv Kumar said 40 to 50 armed rebels entered the HCC camp at Kosma in Barkatha, over 62 km from Hazaribagh.
The extremists took 24 persons hostage and led them to a nearby river, where 20 were freed within an hour, Kumar added but did not give any reason behind the release.
The four who remained in captivity were Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Janki Yadav, contractor Deepak Singh, mines manager Harshavardhan Sharma and peon Ravindra Kumar.
They were released much after the police operation was over — again without furnishing any reason.
Several police officers also tried to dispel speculation that the snatch-and-set-free drama was carried out as a warning signal to HCC for refusing to heed an extortion demand. The officers said officials of the HCC had debunked rumours that the MCC had demanded money.
But superintendent of police Anurag Gupta contradicted his colleagues and said the incident was the result of a demand for money.
DIG (North Chotanagpur) B.B. Pradhan said it needed to be investigated why Janki was kidnapped.
The officer denied reports that the camp officers’ relationship with the people in the neighbourhood was strained.
Recently, due to the rainy season, the officials had decided to decrease the number of labourers, which had annoyed the MCC, villagers said. HCC and Larsen and Toubro are widening and renovating GT Road in Jharkhand at an estimated cost of Rs 400 crore.
Soon after news of the abduction spread, a team of CRPF jawans and policemen led by Gupta launched a combing operation.
The 60-member search squad, which included men from all the police stations nearby, walked 13 km and reached Uproli Dippo, a village.
As the team approached the village, the police said that several villagers started running, prompting the force to surround the hamlet. A few jawans who sneaked inside the village found several MCC activists in uniform.
Both sides then started firing indiscriminately, which continued for 45 minutes. The police estimated that “hundreds of rounds” were fired in the gunbattle.
Gupta said the rebels took position behind a school building on elevated ground. He said the CRPF jawans fired 10 mortar shells after which the rebels ran away.
It was then that the police caught Suryamani. The police later claimed that she had confessed to her involvement in a rifle snatch at Padma two days ago. Gupta said the girl, a resident of Barudih in Mandu, was a member of an MCC hit squad led by Dhiren Da.
Kumar said the police had sought more help and would continue the operation for a few more days.