The Uttar Pradesh government on Friday sent 250 buses to Rajasthan’s Kota city to bring back stranded students amid the ongoing nationwide lockdown to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Kota, known for its coaching centres, has around 7,500 students from Uttar Pradesh living in paying guest accommodations or hostels, PTI reported. They have been anxious to return to their homes since the lockdown was imposed on March 25. It was initially supposed to end on April 14 but was later extended till May 3.

On Tuesday, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the extension of the nationwide lockdown till May 3, he did not announce an economic revival plan or package for migrants despite repeated requests from state chief ministers for urgent measures that could help them weather the crisis. Many of them are stranded, with no money, little food and almost no option of leaving the places where they are living.

Soon after Modi’s address, the students in Kota began a social media campaign called #SendUsBackHome, following which the Uttar Pradesh government decided to get involved, some officials told the news agency. The Uttar Pradesh government has arranged for around 250 buses to take the students, while the Kota administration will provide 100 more buses if needed, officials told the news agency.

Several buses began reaching Kota on Friday evening, and they will depart later in the night after the students undergo thermal screening. Each bus will have only 30 students to ensure that social distancing norms are maintained, officials said.

“On the consent of UP government, the students from UP studying in Kota and stuck in hostels and PG rooms during the lockdown amid spread of Covid-19 are being sent back to their hometowns in UP,” Additional District Magistrate Narendra Gupta said. Gupta was deputed by Kota Collector Om Kasera to coordinate the arrangements. “They [UP] government sent the buses and the same buses are being used to send the students back to their homes in UP.”

“We have enlisted students district-wise to board the buses to travel to their hometowns in UP. They would be provided with face masks, sanitisers and food packets,” Nitesh Sharma of Allen Career Institute said.

Rajasthan welcomes but Bihar condemns move

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot praised the Adityanath government’s move. “As the UP govt called back students of UP living in Kota Rajasthan, it can also be done for students from other states,” Gehlot said. “Students in Kota can be sent to their home states on the consent of the concerned state govt so that these young boys and girls do not panic or feel depressed.”

However, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, a key ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party, called it an injustice and said it was against the purpose of the lockdown, according to NDTV. “The way special buses are being sent to ferry students from Kota, it is injustice with the principle of the lockdown,” Nitish Kumar said. He added that the move makes it seem like states are facilitating students but “making excuses” when it comes to allowing migrant workers to return to their homes.

When a group of 300 students went from Kota to Patna three days ago with special permission to travel, the Bihar government wrote to the 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 said in the letter.