Rs 28 lakh paid for WWF releaseROOPAK GOSWAMI
Guwahati, Feb. 18: A sum of Rs 28 lakh was raised from “various sources” to pay the abductors of the six WWF volunteers to secure their release, something that most in the security establishment were kept in the dark about, before it was revealed at the monthly review meeting of various agencies today.
While three girls were released by the abductors — allegedly the anti-talks faction of the NDFB — after two days, the three boys were set free yesterday.
Highly placed sources said the information about the ransom was shared today at a meeting of multiple agencies, including the security forces, held at Chapakata in Bongaigaon, indicating once again that the release came not because of “sustained security operations that put the kidnappers under pressure” as claimed by police but because of the ransom paid for the boys’ release.
The meeting, which is held periodically, discussed the abduction episode among other things.
“Inputs generated from various sources revealed that Rs 28 lakh was paid for the release of the WWF volunteers,” a source said.
“The sum was raised from various sources, including official ones,” he said, without divulging the exact sources.
According to him, there was some hard bargaining with the abductors before they settled for the amount after having raised a demand for Rs 2 crore in the beginning.
He said the boys were kept at Udalguri, a place inside the 590-square km Chirang reserve forest in Kokrajhar district.
Udalguri is an encroached area and is a few kilometres from Shantipur where the three girls were earlier released.
“Whenever there is a ransom demand, bargaining starts with the kidnappers and they generally settle for about 10 per cent of the original demand, which was true of this case, too,” the source said.
Pranjal Kumar Saikia from Nagaon, who was one of the abducted volunteers, said the abductors had assured them they would not be harmed.
“They told us we had no reason to fear,” he told The Telegraph.
“They were very friendly and gave us everything right from a chessboard to a ludo set. We were also served pork and chicken,” Saikia said.
Gautam Kishore Sarma, who was taken away along with Saikia, said the 11 days in captivity were spent in fear, but it has not dented his commitment to protect wildlife and work for the environment.
“Every moment in captivity was horrible but I am ready to go back to the jungles again and complete our unfinished job of the tiger project. Once I recover from the trauma, I want to resume the work,” Gautam said, as he reached home at Borigaon village, about 16km from here around 4.30pm today.
Villagers, family members and relatives thronged the house as the news of Gautam’s safe return spread.
“We were taken hostage by a group of 15-20 armed people, all in army fatigues, and we were taken on foot for about an hour inside the thick jungles before being handed over to another group. The new group took us to another place and put us up in a tent inside the jungle. The abductors spoke in Bodo among themselves and in Assamese with us and asked us not to worry. They provided us meat to eat, chess and ludo for recreation and never threatened us,” the youth said.
“The abductors said they would not disturb us again when we restart our work,” Gautam said.