Coronavirus (COVID-19): Until Monday, Kota, the Rajasthan town that is the nation’s tutorial centre for entrance examinations, was issuing special passes for the safe passage home of its outstation students, many of them from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. But with the 21-day lockdown extended on Tuesday, and Bihar refusing to take in any more students, the district administration has stopped issuing the passes. Overnight, an estimated 25,000 of the 1.5 lakh outstation students find themselves stuck.
“Day by day Covid-19 cases in Kota are (rising) and here we are facing too much problem. We want to go home ASAP. Help us #SendUsBackHome,” Sangam Kumar, an 18-year-old student from Kota, posted on his newly created Twitter handle.
By evening, over 50,000 such tweets tagging the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, and chief ministers of Bihar, Rajasthan and UP, besides Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, who represents the Kota-Bundi constituency, had flooded the social media platform.
“I haven’t been home in a year. I was hoping to finally go home after the 21-day lockdown ended. A lot of my friends got passes to leave Kota, but when I went to the DM’s office two days ago, they said they weren’t issuing any passes,” Sangam, who hails from Bihar’s Jamui district where his father owns a chemist shop, said over the phone. A student of Resonance coaching centre in the town, Sangam had been preparing for the IIT-JEE exams which have now been put off.
Sources in coaching institutes in Kota said that while the passes were initially issued at the collectorate, four days ago, the administration had, in a bid to prevent crowding at the district magistrate’s office, asked the coaching centres to collect applications from students who wished to go back to their home states.
But on April 12, the district administration stopped issuing passes after Bihar refused to take in any more students coming back from the coaching town, and lodged a protest with the Centre.
A source in the disaster management department in Bihar said over 200 students had come to the state from Kota in less than a week. The district has reported 57 COVID-19 cases and a death so far.
In a letter dated April 13, 2020, Bihar Chief Secretary Deepak Kumar told Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla that “such movement (from Kota to Bihar) is not advisable”, and urged the Centre to ensure “strict enforcement of lockdown in Kota.”
“…The District Magistrate, Kota, has been issuing private vehicle passes for transportation of people to Bihar. It is also worthwhile to mention that Kota has 40 confirmed corona cases and, therefore, such movement from Kota is not at all advisable in the present scenario. In Bihar, we are now medically examining the returning students as well as the guardians accompanying them and instructions are being issued to quarantine them. This unprecedented situation could have been easily avoided by strict enforcement of lockdown in Kota,” the letter said, adding, “…Also, the District Magistrate, Kota, should be warned for violating the guidelines issued by the MHA for movement of people in the country.”
Kota Additional District Collector (administration) Narendra Gupta said the process of issuing passes to students and their guardians to facilitate their safe passage home had started right after the state government announced a lockdown on March 21, four days before the nationwide lockdown came into effect. “In some cases, guardians of these students came to Kota to take them back home and passes were issued to them as well. At present, we are unable to provide the number of students who were issued the passes. However, we have stopped issuing the passes from yesterday and are waiting for further directions,” he told The Indian Express.
A spokesperson for Allen coaching centre, one of the biggest in the town whose 15,000 students have been trying to leave the town and go home, said “it will be very tough to keep the students in Kota”.
“They are all between 15-18 years of age… Unke saath zabardasti nahi kar sakte (You can’t force them). We have been trying to provide them with food but with classes over, and exams postponed, they have not much to do here,” he says. The institute received 500 applications for passes in two days.
At Sangam Kumar’s hostel, about 15 boys are sharing the three smartphones that the group has to track the news daily. “I got my brother in Bihar to recharge my phone. I now have 2 GB data. We watch news and videos related to COVID-19 for sometime every day. Other than that, I have been studying for 12-15 hours. There are no classes now and so we don’t know how to get our doubts clarified. Food is not a problem, but I am told that a lot of messes are also shutting down. Please get us out of here,” he said on the phone.
— Inputs from Santosh Singh, Patna
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