Guwahati: On April 27, 391 students studying in various coaching centres of Kota, Rajasthan finally reached Assam at 3 am after traversing for nearly 1,900 km. Welcomed by senior cabinet minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and minister of state Pijush Hazarika, the tumultuous journey was made possible, thanks to the combined efforts of students, government from both the states of Assam and Rajasthan, parents, police officials, and some humanitarian workers.
Team EastMojo was able to track down a few individuals who were instrumental in the entire process. Pawan Choudhary, a consultant at Invest India, a National Investment Promotion & Facilitation Agency, DPIIT, Union ministry of commerce, and a student Manish Sarmah, an engineering aspirant who with his team of friends Harshit Kanodia, Kirtan Chandak, Jimi Baishya, and Himangshu Jyoti Gogoi took the leadership in the smooth coordination. Here is how it transpired.
“After seeing the students from UP making videos appealing to their government to take them back to their state work, I thought why not do the same,” said Manish. After collecting about 60-70 such videos, Manish then forwarded those to a media channel from Assam and also posted a few on social media as well. The videos of appeal by the students stranded came into the notice of one Bhaskar Chaturvedi (official of Invest India) who then spoke with Choudhary to take the matter forward.
“When the second phase of lockdown was announced, the state of Rajasthan already had about 90+ COVID-19 positive cases,” said Choudhury. Students and parents alike had already formed a WhatsApp group regarding the present scenario of the students from Assam who were there in Kota.
After witnessing the successful transfer of students from Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh the government of Assam also decided to bring their students home.
Initially, the plan was to bring just 25-40 students and the discussions were held with MP Om Birla, Speaker of the Lok Sabha, along with Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. “But by the noon of April 19, when the first official round of discussions took place with Birla, Sarma, Samir Kumar Sinha (principal secretary to the government of Assam), MLA Pijush Hazarika, Pomi Baruah (deputy secretary at government of Assam), the total tally of students reached 175,” said Choudhury.
Manish added, “Himanta sir gave us two options, either to come back to Assam or to be taken to Delhi and stay at Assam Bhawan till the end of the lockdown but we opted for the former.”
However, things took a nasty turn when many students started complaining to the ministers by tagging in their Twitter account, unhappy and disturbed by the fact that their names were left out. This showcased that there are still many students from Assam who were unaccounted for in Kota. This led to the ‘transportation mission’ being postponed.
However, the team of five students took the charge of formulating a Google sheet that would have all the details of the students and the district they belong to and will also not miss out on any other students. “We worked non-stop amidst the video calls to gather all the information and also get the consignment sign approved by the guardians of the students,” added Manish. This sheet was then circulated to all the institutes of Kota and even Kota administration pushed the coaching centre Allen to take a lead in this matter. By then, the total reached 375.
The second round of official discussions took place on April 20 where Sarma promised the travelers the transportation and security from the side of the Assam government. “He even cautioned the students that the journey is not an easy one and should be undertaken at their own risk,” said Choudhury recollecting the meeting details as the bus has to traverse from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and then to Assam.
IPS officer Anand Prakash Tiwari, who is also the MD of Assam State Transport Corporation, lent his helping hand in arranging 17 buses for the journey. “He even helped us in getting two students out of the custody of Allen Students Welfare Society right before the journey as they were wrongly accused of collecting Rs 7,000 for their own nefarious purposes,” said Manish.
On the other hand, a security team consisting of nine police officials under the leadership of Panjit Duarah had already left for Jaipur. The police officials were supposed to reach Kota on April 23 so that they can accompany the students on April 24.
Amidst the preparations, information came about two students from Assam who were in Jaipur. Choudhury added, “We again had to take some special permissions from the administration of Jaipur to get those two to Kota.” However, that was not the last of it as two more female students who were also in Jaipur got the news of the large scale transportation and wanted to be a part of it as well and this was on April 22. The plan was hatched to bring the two students along with the police officials who would reach Jaipur on April 23.
After all the preparations were set and done, finally the actual journey began on April 24. Each of the police personnel was given a bus to monitor and the remaining were monitored by two parents in each of the buses. The location of the buses was also constantly monitored via live location by the five students and continuous Zoom calls were in motion with the ministers and the students as well.
Along the long journeys, there were constant checks in each of the states. “We even celebrated the birthday of one of the students while travelling,” said Manish, recounting the Herculean travel days. Food and hotels for freshening up were already managed by the governments beforehand as they stopped at designated locations. NGOs even came out of their own accord to provide packed lunches for weary travelers.
As of now, the students are in institutional quarantine for 14 days with the boys in Sarusajai Sports Complex and the girls being shifted to various hotels. This mega journey was difficult but with people coming together, governments coordinating with each other, and students taking up the helm of leaders, the common goal was achieved.