Saturday, Apr 17, 2004
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By Sushanta Talukdar
GUWAHATI, APRIL 16. The Assam Government is thinking of seeking the Army's help to trace a retired NRI teacher from London, Pratul Deb, who was abducted by suspected militants of the Bru National Liberation Front (BNLF) on March 17 from south Assam's Hailakandi district.
The State Home Commissioner, B.K.Gohain, told The Hindu that the Home Department would decide on this in a day or two after consulting the Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi.
The Hailakandi police launched a fresh search on Wednesday midnight in the jungles of the Assam-Mizoram border for the teacher-turned-businessman following a tip-off that he was seen in that area.
Sipra Deb, London-based physician daughter of Mr. Deb, is not happy with the action of the police and civil administration and accused them of "failing to act in time" despite information passed on to them by the family members about his whereabouts.
Dr. Deb and her mother, Shibani, have been camping at their ancestral house at Katlicherra in Hailakandi district from March 25.
Dr. Deb is worried about the fate of her 67-year-old father who had undergone a cardiac bypass surgery in November last year and was on medicine. "Three arteries had to be opened and a pacemaker was implanted at a hospital in London in November. They (the abductors) have made my dad's life hell. Since March 17 he has not taken his medicines," she said.
She told The Hindu that family members were worried about his fate as the abductors had not contacted them after a ransom of Rs. 2 lakh was paid. They had agreed to pay Rs. 3 lakh more after he was released.
Ms. Shibani, who is suffering from "severe emotional distress," was advised by her daughter to return to London as both her "physical and mental state was very bad."
Mr. Deb had contested as a Bharatiya Janata Party candidate from the Katlicherra Assembly constituency in 2001 but lost to his brother-in-law, Gautom Roy, Social Welfare Minister in the Tarun Gogoi Cabinet.
Mr. Deb, a leading bamboo trader in the district, owns a pasture at Bairabhi in Mizoram and was returning from his factory when the militants waylaid him, his manager and a helper and two other motorcyclists near the Ramnagar area near the jungle around 11 a.m. on March 17. His manager, Jalal, and helper Nunia along with the two other civilians who were abducted were released the same night. The abductors told them that they would contact Mr. Deb's family members and place their demand.
Mr. Deb's family in London was informed by his brother the next day. Dr. Deb told the family members to agree to any negotiation only after the callers could provide any "life-evidence." "To be sure, I instructed my relatives receiving calls from the intermediaries to seek the registration number of my dad's car in Nigeria as it is known only to my dad and us. Both my mom and dad taught in Nigeria for 12 years before moving to London in 1985," she said.
"We had paid the intermediaries Rs. 2 lakh in the last week of March 1 at the arranged place about 30 km off Katlicherra. They promised to contact us again on April 3. They had even asked us to take a vehicle to the arranged place as my father is also suffering from a problem on his knee and was due to return to London for a surgery. We had accordingly gone to the spot. But since then there has been no word from the abductors," she said.
She alleged that the State Government had withdrawn the personal security guards provided to her father during the 2001 Assembly elections despite potential threats to his life.
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