Ritul Saikia is at an ULFA-I camp in Myanmar, according to government intel

Guwahati: Ritul Saikia, one of three ONGC employees abducted by banned Assam outfit ULFA-I last month, will be released "in a day or two" as a sign of good faith, faction chief Paresh Baruah said Thursday.

News of Mr Saikia's proposed release came after new Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma welcomed Mr Baruah's call for a "unilateral ceasefire" because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We have seen a statement from ULFA-I chief Paresh Baruah declaring unilateral ceasefire in view of the pandemic and as goodwill for the new government. We welcome any positive step, but a ceasefire will need ground rules for implementation (and) we look forward to a more solid step," Mr Sarma said.

"If there is a ceasefire then the ultimate intention should be to enter into talks. We are waiting for a more elaborate statement from Mr Baruah to specify what he wants," he added.

Hours after the Chief Minister's message the ULFA-I chief responded via a telephone interview with a local news channel; he said the government's message was a "welcome step".

"It is a welcome step the Assam Government has taken, as its responsibility (is) to ensure oil and petroleum companies do right by the people of the state. Our seven demands were also the same when we abducted Ritul Saikia," he said.

Intel says Mr Saikia is at a ULFA-I camp in Myanmar. A resident of Titabor in Upper Assam's Jorhat district, he was stationed at ONGC's Sivasagar site when he and two others were abducted in April.

The other two - Mohini Mohan Gogoi and Alakesh Saikia - were released a few days later.

Mr Sarma, who met Mr Saikia's family earlier this week, had also "humbly requested" the ULFA-I chief to release his hostage, and said that action would "initiate common ground for discussion".

Mr Baruah responded: "He (Mr Sarma) didn't have to appeal me as we have already decided to release him in a day or two. He is well and healthy. We regret the emotional trauma his family went through, but I would urge them to think of it as a sacrifice for the greater good of Assam."

Mr Saikia's abduction (and that of his colleagues) is the second by ULFA-I since December last year, when two members of a private company deputed by Oil India Limited were kidnapped from a rig in Arunachal Pradesh. They were eventually released in early-April.

"Assam's finances will be badly hit if the oil and petroleum sector is attacked repeatedly. Such abductions will not help Assam," the Chief Minister has already warned ULFA-I, adding, "Instead direct grievances through the state, which will take it up with ONGC or OIL or the centre, and ensure they invest more in Assam and fulfil their socio-economic responsibilities."

Mr Sarma has said Assam gains around ₹ 14,000 crore from the oil and petroleum sector - through royalty, state goods and sales tax (SGST), and the state's share of central taxes.