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Abducted tea manager escapes

Jorhat, Feb. 9: The abducted manager of Lakhimijan tea estate — a small tea plantation — along the Assam-Nagaland border in Titabar sub-division Jorhat district reportedly escaped from captivity in the wee hours today.

The manager, Moon Mahanta, was abducted by a group of four armed men from inside the tea garden under Bandar Chaliha police outpost in Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi’s constituency (Titabar), on Friday. Mahanta, who hails from Sonitpur district, was staying in a rented house in Titabar town and had been visiting the garden regularly.

Mahanta’s health condition was examined at Titabar government hospital and was stated to be stable, but he was found to be “little weak and tired” as he was suffering from anxiety and exhaustion from walking a considerable distance.

Heaving a sigh of relief, tea garden owner Bijoy Kumar Modi told this correspondent that Mahanta fled from captivity around 3am and climbed down the hilly tracts along the inter-state boundary.

Modi appreciated the action of the police, which he said led to Mahanta fleeing from captivity. He said one of the abductors had earlier worked as a labourer in the plantation.

“The prompt action of the police had forced the abductors, who were from tea tribes’ community, to flee from their hideout as the police party was conducting operations along the Assam-Nagaland boundary.

Police sources said last evening, the police had picked up a few family members of the identified abductor and brought them to Titabar police station for questioning.

Modi said the manager, who was kept at a bunker-like place inside dense jungles atop the hills across the border, managed to untie himself after he woke up from sleep.

Quoting Mahanta, Modi said as the manager did not see his captors nearby, he managed to free himself and walked for about two hours and reached Tyroon tea estate.

Asked whether there was any ransom demand, Modi said Rs 20 lakh was demanded as ransom but he said no such payment was made. He said “constant police presence” in the area must have led them to abandon the hideout, leaving Mahanta behind.

Modi said the abductors took about Rs 12,000 from the manager (part of the money brought for weekly payment to labourers), his wristwatch and a gold ring.

Jorhat superintendent of police Amanjeet Kaur told The Telegraph that the abductors had fled the hideout because of round-the-clock search operations carried out by the police.

She said Nagaland police, too, were alerted and had offered their co-operation to catch the abductors, who are believed to be a local gang of criminals. Kaur said two from the group have been identified and efforts were on to apprehend all of them.

The incident comes within two months of the abduction of four workers (on December 11 last year), reportedly by rebels from Nagaland, employed in a small tea plantation along the Assam-Nagaland border in the Rongham area under Selenghat police outpost of Teok police station of the district.

The four were released the same night after a group of local people reportedly went to a Naga village across the border and negotiated with the captors, who had demanded Rs 1.5 lakh for the release. On January 16, the manager of Pabhoi tea estate, Bharat Singh Rathore, was abducted by a group of armed men from his garden bungalow in Sonitpur district and was released on January 21.