The Uttar Pradesh government on Friday claimed that the Congress government in Rajasthan forced it to pay for the additional buses it provided for bringing stranded students from Kota back home to their towns, the Hindustan Times reported. The students were brought back in April due to lack of public transport amid a nationwide lockdown to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Dinesh Sharm labelled the Congress double-faced, and accused it of trying political stunts. “On the one hand you do not even show the courtesy of dropping our students stranded in your state at the UP border and ask us to pay the cost for ferrying students; on the other hand you try to show off your sense of public service and sensitivity by offering buses for migrants in UP,” Sharma said at press conference, flanked by Uttar Pradesh Transport Minister Ashok Kataria.

Sharma was referring to the wrangle between the Adityanath-led government and the Congress over transportation arrangements for stranded migrant workers. This began with party leader Priyanka Gandhi’s Vadra’s offer to provide 1,000 buses to the state government. But hundreds of buses massed by the Congress on Uttar Pradesh’s border with Rajasthan were turned back on Wednesday evening.

Sharma, a Bharatiya Janata Party leader, alleged on Friday that the Congress was “two-faced”, and that the party’s move to provide buses for migrant workers was a “political stunt”. He demanded a public apology from the Congress.

Referring to the return of students from Kota in Rajasthan, the deputy chief minister said the Uttar Pradesh could bring back only 10,000 of the 12,000 stranded students in April, due to shortage of buses. He said that following this, the Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation asked its Rajasthan counterpart to arrange 90 more buses. “They did agree but on the condition that the UPSRTC give this in writing that it would bear the cost to which we agreed and sent a written request immediately accordingly,” he said.

The deputy chief minister said that on May 1, the Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation raised a bill of Rs 19.75 lakh for the diesel Uttar Pradesh’s buses purchased while in Kota. He said this amount was paid immediately. “Again, on May 18, they sent the UPSRTC a reminder for the payment of another amount of Rs 36.36 lakh as the fare for the 90 buses the UPSRTC hired from RSRTC for bringing students from Kota to Agra, and the UPSRTC paid the entire amount back on May 20,” he said.

Sharma said the Rajasthan government was equally responsible for the well-being of the students, as they studied in the state. “Should the Rajasthan government have not shown the courtesy of dropping these students free of cost on the UP borders at least if not to their homes?” he asked.

Mayawati backs up Sharma

Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati on Friday appeared to take Sharma’s side, lambasting the Congress government in Rajasthan for charging over Rs 36 lakh from the Uttar Pradesh government. In a tweet, Mayawati said the Rajasthan government’s demand shows its “depravity and inhumanity”.

She also reiterated Sharma’s objection. “On the one hand, the Congress government in Rajasthan is charging exorbitant fare from students for buses to return to their homes, while on the other hand, they are claiming to provide buses for transporting the migrants to Uttar Pradesh,” Mayawati tweeted. “How appropriate or humane is this kind of political game?”

The BJP-Congress tussle

Sharma claimed on Wednesday that it was found that around 460 of the 1,000 vehicles submitted in the list by the Congress were bogus, as they either lacked fitness certificates, proper documents, or were three-wheeler vehicles, including ambulances and autorickshaws.

Hitting back, Gandhi said that if the Uttar Pradesh government had allowed the party’s “900” buses to enter the state, 72,000 migrant workers could have been transported back home.

The same day, Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Ajay Kumar Lallu was arrested for protesting on the Bharatpur-Agra highway on Tuesday against the Uttar Pradesh government’s allegations that the list of buses provided by the Congress contained registration numbers of auto rickshaws and cars. He was let out on bail, but was rearrested hours later in connection with another case related to the buses. The Congress leader has been charged under sections of the Indian Penal Code relating to cheating and forgery.

The nationwide lockdown, which began on March 25 and is scheduled to end on May 31 barring a fourth extension, has led to migrant workers as well as students being stranded in states away from their homes. Many migrants have attempted to walk home or to use private transport, despite the Centre launching a special train service for them on May 1. Some have died in these attempts.

As of Friday morning, Covid-19 had infected 1,18,447 people in India, and killed 3,583, according to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

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