FOUR DAYS after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the extension of the national lockdown by two weeks, Rajasthan officials said that “about 100” buses from UP reached Kota Friday to take “nearly 7,500” students home.
The move follows a massive social media campaign launched by thousands of students stuck in the entrance-coaching hub. Kota’s Additional District Magistrate (Administration), Narendra Gupta said that by Friday evening, “about 100 of the 252 buses from UP reached Kota”. “The buses will ferry nearly 7,500 students back to their home districts in UP,” he said.
The students will not be charged for transportation. “We will provide masks, food packets as well as water,” Gupta said.
However, with the city emerging as a coronavirus hotspot with 92 of the 1,131 cases reported from Rajasthan, Gupta said the students will be screened, and the buses sanitised.
“For each of these students, we are recording their name, the name of their coaching centre, their home address, and other contact details. We hope to finish the exercise at the earliest,” he said. The district has also reported two deaths from the virus.
In UP, officials were tightlipped over the move, with one officer saying that the government would comment only after the buses “return safely, carrying all the students”.
According to officials, around 200 buses were organised from Agra, Jalaun and Jhansi districts. “The buses left on Friday morning. It was a tough decision taken by top officials in the state government. The students belong to different districts. Each bus will accommodate 30 students, keeping in mind social distancing norms,” said an official.
The situation in Kota escalated after district authorities stopped issuing travel passes from April 12, when Bihar refused to take in any more students and lodged a protest with the Centre.
The students then took to social media, using the hashtag #SendUsBackHome, and tagged the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, and the chief ministers of Bihar, Rajasthan and UP.
“I got a message in the morning from my institute, informing that we will be leaving at 4 pm. We were then sent a link to fill an online form, which asked us where we wanted to go. I filled it up, and spoke to my parents. They told me to pack everything, change my IIT-JEE centre to Varanasi, and return home for good,” says Kumar Saurabh, 19, who hails from Jaunpur and has been in Kota for the past three years.
Around 5 pm, Saurabh and “over 200” other students gathered at a coaching centre where they were put in separate classrooms to ensure social distancing. Around 10 pm, he was waiting for his turn to be screened.
“We have been told that we will be screened again at Agra. Five of us from my hostel are leaving while another six students, most of them from Bihar, are still there. They were very sad, they want to leave, too,” said Saurabh, whose father has a government job in UP.
Taking to Twitter, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot posted: “As the UP govt called back students of UP living in #Kota #Rajasthan, it can also be done for students from other states. Students in Kota can be sent to their home states on the consent of the concerned state govt so that these young boys & girls do not panic or feel depressed.”
Reacting to the call, Bihar’s Building and Construction Minister Ashok Kumar Choudhary posted on Twitter: “Sending back students to their respective states is an injustice to the purpose of national lockdown. Any citizen stuck at any place is an Indian first, it’s the responsibility of the respective state to take care of them, at any cost. Zero travel is the need of the hour…”
However, the state’s Leader of Opposition, RJD’s Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, welcomed the UP move. “Bringing back its students from Kota is a welcome move by the UP government. But the Bihar government has been stopping its students coming from Kota with special permission from district administration. Whether they are migrants and students stuck up outside the state, the Bihar government has deserted all of them,” he alleged.
UP had previously organised buses to take migrant workers from Delhi back to their hometowns, days after the first phase of the lockdown was imposed.
Reacting to the latest decision, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav demanded that UP show the same concern for stranded migrant workers. “It is a welcome step to bring back students stuck in Rajasthan’s Kota. But it leads to the question of why the mobile phones of so-called Nodal officials are silent on labourers, belonging to the lower sections, facing starvation in other states?” he posted on Twitter.
(with Santosh Singh in Patna)
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