Kota: After the Uttar Pradesh government organised 300 buses to take students stranded in educational hub Kota home, the Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh governments too have decided to do the same, ThePrint has learned.
Students from all over the country come to Kota, Rajasthan, to prepare for competitive exams in engineering and medicine. However, after the nationwide lockdown was imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19, about 25,000 students were left stranded in the city. Several of them demanded they be allowed to go home, as Kota is a Covid-19 hotspot with 92 cases, as on 17 April.
“The MP and Chhattisgarh governments are on board. It’s a matter of a few days now,” a senior member of the Kota administration told ThePrint, on the condition of anonymity.
Mukesh Saraswat, director of the ALLEN Student Welfare Society — attached to ALLEN Careers Institute, the biggest coaching centre in Kota — told ThePrint: “Last night, the district administration told us that the UP government would send buses to pick up the stranded students from its state.”
Saraswat added: “The administration is in talks with the Bihar and Chhattisgarh governments too. We are staying prepared.”
Bihar isn’t pleased
The UP government’s decision came days after the Bihar government refused to take its students back. The students were given passes to leave Rajasthan by the District Magistrate, and reached the border of their home state in taxis with permits, but were refused entry by Bihar Monday.
“It was upsetting because many people had got their hopes up, including me. Nothing was clear about it at the time. Now that the UP government has decided to take back students, Bihar should do the same,” said a student from Siwan who did not wish to be named.
“Our studies have been completely disrupted and if other governments take their students away, it will make those left behind feel worse,” the student added.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has strongly objected to the UP government’s decision, labelling it gross injustice.
“You cannot have two sets of rules for nationwide lockdown. It will defeat the purpose of the lockdown,” he said Friday evening, referring to the apparent difference in treatment meted out to migrant labourers and students. “The way special buses are being sent to ferry students from Kota is injustice with the principles of the lockdown.”
Bihar Chief Secretary Deepak Kumar said the UP government’s move would open a Pandora’s box, despite the other state’s insistence that the buses were sent with food, water bottles, masks and sanitisers.
“If you allow students, then on what grounds will you stop migrant labourers?” asked the top official.
Nitish Kumar’s government has so far ignored pleas from students — even young women in Hyderabad who had pleaded for help in returning home through a video that went viral.
The recent incident of migrant labourers assembling in large numbers at Mumbai’s Bandra railway station, apparently owing to rumours about train services restarting, also seemed to unnerve the Bihar government. Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi had appealed to the labourers not to return during the lockdown period, and not to be carried away by fake news.
“We have already provided financial assistance to over nine lakh migrant labourers by transferring Rs 1,000 in their accounts. We have received around 16 lakh applications through an app we had launched and we are processing them fast. The principle of lockdown should not be violated,” BJP leader Modi told ThePrint.
Minister from Nitish’s JD(U), the BJP’s ally, are also livid over UP’s move.
“UP CM Adityanath has been defying the diktats of PM Narendra Modi. Even during the exodus of Bihari labourers, buses were made available by the UP government to take them to the border of Bihar,” said a minister who did not wish to be named.
Arrangements for students in Kota
The Kota administration has set up eight emergency helplines for students, which they can use to call for food.
The ALLEN Students’ Welfare Society has set up two helplines of its own: One for psychological support, and the other for academic help. Additionally, 8,000 food packets are delivered to students who don’t have pantries and whose hostels are not providing food, in a bid to ensure no one goes hungry.
Students were even more anxious to go home because the National Testing Agency (NTA) — the body in charge of organising competitive exams — gave them the option to change their exam centres when the lockdown was extended to 3 May.
“On 14 April, the NTA gave students the option to change their exam centres, and the option remains open till 3 May. But when the lockdown was extended, ruling out the possibility of students moving back home, they got frustrated,” said a source in the ALLEN Career Institute, adding: “The students here were under the impression that after the 14th, they would be allowed to go home.”
Relief for some, mounting concern for others
There is obvious relief on the faces of students from Uttar Pradesh.
“I’m glad to be going home. My parents are really worried, and I would also be more comfortable at home, especially since the month of Ramzan is also coming up. The food they’re giving us here is good, but I don’t think it will suit me when fasting begins,” said Alkama Praveen, who is preparing for the NEET.
Rhea Chaubey, who is preparing for her pre-medical exams, added: “There’s a lot of stress, and don’t feel like being here. Doubt classes are off and I’m really looking forward to being home and I’m glad they’ve made the arrangements.”
However, for those from other states, it’s a long, frustrating wait.
“I tried arranging for a taxi to take me home, but they refused saying it was an area full of Naxalites. It would help a lot if the Chhattisgarh government helped its students here,” said Ankit Tiwari from that state.
“Lots of students don’t have smartphones either because they are discouraged from using them by the coaching centres. How are we supposed to manage?” Tiwari added.
(With additional reporting by Dipak Mishra in Patna)
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