Nearly 3,000 students stranded in Kota due to the ongoing lockdown left for their home in 100 buses sent by the Uttar Pradesh government, but another 7,000 were waiting for their turn in the Rajasthan city on Saturday.
The UP government had sent 250 buses to Kota on Friday, estimating the total number of students to be around 7,500, but more students gathered at the three boarding points in the city after learning about the travel arrangement. Some of the students were accompanied by their parents.
Officials now fear the buses available could be inadequate to accommodate all the students willing to return home. But Kota Public Relations Deputy Director Hariom Gurjar said the UP government has assured them that more buses would be arranged if there is a shortfall.
The Kota administration had prepared the list of students based on information received from coaching institutes and did not account for those studying in the city without enrolling in any institute, officials said.
The 100 buses with around 3,000 students left for UP early Saturday, said Additional Superintendent of Police Rajesh Mill, overseeing the exercise. The process to send the remaining students whose names are in the list is underway, Mill added.
Asked about the students who are not listed, he expressed the inability of the Kota administration in arranging more buses, saying, "It would not be possible at our level. The resources have to come from there (UP) and we can only cooperate and maintain social distancing while sending the students back home".
He said he "cannot comment" on what additional resources would be needed and who would arrange them. The remaining 7,000 students largely belong to the Agra division, said Nitesh Sharma, a member of Allen Career Institute. "We have asked some students enlisted for departure to not move out of the hostels until more buses are arranged."
The students had started a social media campaign #SendUsBackHome on Tuesday, following which the UP government decided to bring them back. The move earned praise from Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who said other state governments should follow Uttar Pradesh.
"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," Gehlot wrote on Twitter handle on Friday.
The buses have been sanitised and the students departing for hometowns are being thermal screened before boarding them. Food packets, water bottles and masks are also being provided to the students.
Meanwhile, a minister in Bihar expressed his disapproval of the Uttar Pradesh government's move to bring back the students from Kota, and slammed Gehlot for calling upon other states to follow suit, terming it a "mockery" of the nationwide lockdown prompted by COVID-19.
"Dear Sir, will it not be a severe blow to the #lockdown and a mockery of it! "So far, we've done well in containing #COVID-19# compared to many countries owing to restraint & good work of all. Why dilute this? Also has Rajasthan called back all outstation students?" Sanjay Kumar Jha, Bihar's Water Resources Minister and a close confidante of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, wrote on Twitter.
On Friday, Kumar said such a step will defeat the very purpose of the lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus and be "injustice" to the migrant labourers from Bihar stranded in other states.
The Bihar government had earlier this week lodged a protest with the Centre over the Kota administration issuing passes to students of various coaching centres and their parents for returning to their home states.
In a letter to Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla, Bihar Chief Secretary Deepak Kumar had on Monday said, "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 their guardians accompanying them, and instructions are being issued to quarantine them."
Jha also took a swipe at senior RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav for attacking the Bihar government for not facilitating the return of state natives stuck elsewhere during the shutdown.
In a statement, Tejashwi refered to the Uttar Pradesh government facilitating the return of its students from Kota and the National Capital Region (NCR), and Gujarat bringing back its 1,800 peoople in luxury buses from Haridwar in Uttrakhand.
Jha, a JD(U) national general secretary, said the Bihar government is sincerely following the lockdown protocol and those making "irresponsible" statements are violating the "spirit" of the shutdown.
"In this hour of crisis, instead of staying with the people of Bihar here, why is he putting up in Delhi and registering his presence through tweet messages and irresponsibe statements?" Jha said.