First batch of 46 political prisoners ready for release: CM

Junglemahal * Mamata offers package for Maoists if they lay down arms

In another step towards restoration of normalcy in Junglemahal, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday said the first batch of 46 "political prisoners" would be released in a couple of days.

She did not disclose the names, but some of those to be released belong to Junglemahal while the rest are from different parts of the state.

Banerjee said security forces would be withdrawn if peace is maintained in Junglemahal, adding that she would back it up with a special rehabilitation package for the Maoists if they surrender with arms.

She said she herself would go to Junglemahal to declare the package for providing the people of the area food, education, shelter, security and a democratic environment.

"We will go to Junglemahal soon and declare the special package there. However, the Maoists will be given a special rehabilitation package only if they surrender to the government with arms. We are always interested in a peaceful solution to the Junglemahal problem. If peace persists in Junglemahal, the central forces will be withdrawn from the area," she said.

"We want everybody to surrender arms in the state. The government will also take legal action to unearth illegal arms,"

said Banerjee.

According to police, a number of Maoist squads have gone back to Junglemahal and are extorting money. They have also barred political parties in the area, including the Trinamool Congress.

Such problems are now being addressed by the local police while central security forces are on standby and are being used only for raids in select cases on specific information.

Despite such minor irritants, the chief minister announced the release of 46 political prisoners as a goodwill gesture.

These 46 people are out of a total of 83 who are in judicial custody and who had appealed to the court for recognition as "political prisoners". The court had granted the status to these prisoners well before the current government came to power.

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