New Delhi: After Uttar Pradesh evacuated its students stuck at Kota, Madhya Pradesh is set to follow suit with the government having sent 150 buses to bring back nearly 3,000 students stranded in the Rajasthan town. The buses are expected to reach Wednesday night.
Elsewhere, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Odisha and Chhattisgarh have urged the Ministry of Home Affairs to deploy special trains and buses for their migrants and students to return home while Maharashtra wants the Centre to allow migrants stuck in the state to return to their respective homes.
Amid the clamour, one chief minister, whose state is among the highest contributors to migrant labour in the country and students in Kota, has kept exceptionally quiet.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has not only not sought help but has, instead, even questioned the need to bring back students from Kota. A majority of the students in Kota are from Bihar.
“Students studying in Kota come from well-to-do families. What is the urgent need to get them home while migrant workers are stranded in other parts of the country?” he asked on 18 April when Yogi Adityanath had decided to send 300 buses for students from UP.
“Getting students back during the lockdown is a violation of norms,” Nitish added. “When the labourers moved around in Delhi in March, it was also a violation and I had requested them to stay where they are,” he had added.
The Bihar government has been consistent in its stand.
On 15 April, it had written to the central government pointing out that letting students travel would open a “pandora’s box”. “On what grounds then can you stop migrant labourers from interstate travel?” the letter had asked.
When Delhi DTC buses had ferried thousands of workers to the Delhi-UP border in March, Nitish had protested, following which the Home Ministry took action against four Delhi government officials.
Sources in Nitish’s JD(U) told ThePrint that the chief minister believes that the students and migrants returning will put Bihar in a difficult situation while dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Nitish backing stringent lockdown protocols is a calculated strategy. He knows if he allows mass movement, the death toll may rise and make it difficult for the state to handle. The opposition is waiting for this,” a minister close to Nitish told ThePrint.
“The CM is eyeing the future and hence doesn’t mind the current criticism,” the minister added. “If he handles the situation better now, nobody will remember this difficult time six months later when elections are due in the state. Right now it is important to save lives.”
States want migrants to return
A number of states want migrants to return or want the central government to facilitate their journey home. Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has demanded that the Centre allow special trains to send migrant workers to their homes.
“At many places, they have taken an aggressive approach,” Thackeray said on 22 April. “If the Centre feels that the number of Covid-19 cases may go up between 30 April and 15 May, it should plan now and notify the plan before 30 April.
Rajasthan has reached out to the Centre to allow its migrants to return home. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot spoke to Home Minister Amit Shah Monday seeking permission and stating that the state will work out the modalities to get the labourers back.
Gehlot has also written to the Centre. “A large number of migrant workers are stranded in West Bengal, Andhra, Kerala and the Northeast,” his letter reads. We should have got five days at least before the lockdown to get them home. Not only migrant workers, five lakh Rajasthani employees, shopkeepers, students and small businessmen are stuck in different parts of the country. If the Centre can help in the evacuation of foreigners, why can’t it help its own people?”
Opposition-ruled states have also accused the Narendra Modi government of double standards in dealing with the crisis.
Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren told ThePrint that the Centre wasn’t allowing his state to get its labourers back like it did for Uttar Pradesh.
“We had requested the Centre to allow special trains or direct point-to-point trains to ferry stranded labourers from other states. We don’t know how long this fight against the coronavirus will prolong,” he said.
“There should not be two yardsticks,” he added. “The move to allow UP to get back its students has triggered similar demands from people of our state for similar concessions. Parents are furious and family members of migrant workers are making calls to the state government for help.”
Even the BJP legislative party leader in Jharkhand, Babulal Marandi, has written to Soren to rescue stranded students from Kota and get back the state’s migrants.
Chattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel echoed similar sentiments. “We were the first to raise this issue during the PM’s video conference with CM,” Baghel said.
“Around 1,000 of our students are stranded in Kota. The Centre has allowed MP and UP to bring back their students so there can’t be two yardsticks. I have also requested the home minster to make some arrangements for migrant workers to return whether by bus or train.”
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