The Uttar Pradesh government is sending 200 buses from Agra and another 100 from Jhansi to Rajasthan’s Kota where thousands of students from across the country preparing for competitive exams have been stranded by the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown.
“The buses are being sent to bring back kids who are stuck in Kota. We are sending food, water bottles, masks, and sanitisers. Each bus will be able to bring back 25 kids. Some buses will also be sent from Jhansi,” a senior government official in Agra said.
A city of around 30 lakh, Kota is a hub of coaching centres and educational institutes where students go to prepare for tough entrance examinations to engineering and medical colleges after finishing school.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said other states could also make arrangements to bring back their students.
The move, however, was criticised by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who said, “The way special buses are being ferried to bring students from Kota is an injustice with the principles of lockdown.”
His government has already taken up the subject in a formal letter to the central home ministry.
“This will open up a Pandora’s box. If you allow students, on what grounds can you stop migrant labourers who are also stuck,” Bihar Chief Secretary Deepak Kumar has said in the letter urging that special permits granted by the Rajasthan government be stopped.
While the central government’s move this week to extend the nationwide lockdown until May 3 to contain the coronavirus pandemic was widely seen as necessary, it has increased difficulties faced by migrant workers, those living on daily incomes and students living away from their homes.
The shutdown, announced abruptly on March 24 nearly two months after India reported its first case, triggered panic and an exodus of lakhs of workers who tried to return home, often walking hundreds of kilometres on foot for food and shelter.
For students unable to attend classes, many states have announced plans to promote them to the next grade without exams while schools and colleges have moved lessons online.
More than 13,000 people have been affected by coronavirus in India and 452 have died. Although the numbers are small compared with some Western nations, health experts fear that is because of India’s low levels of testing and that actual infection levels could be far higher.