A month after The Indian Express reported on a large number of suicides by students at Navodaya Vidyalayas, the Finance Ministry has cleared a proposal to hire full-time counsellors for the prestigious residential schools for children in rural areas.
Two counsellors, a man and a woman, will be engaged on contract in each of the 635 Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas (JNVs) across the country, The Indian Express has learnt. The Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti (NVS) — an autonomous body under the HRD Ministry tasked with running the JNVs — will spend about Rs 56 crore on the exercise, sources said.
“We will issue an Expression of Interest soon and our effort is to have counsellors in place by the time the new academic session begins in April. The initiative will be reviewed after a year,” said a senior official involved in the exercise.
The Indian Express had reported in its edition of December 24, 2018 that the Central government’s residential schools for talented rural children had witnessed 49 student suicides from 2013 to 2017, including that of 25 Dalit and tribal students.
The investigation had also revealed that there were few trained counsellors on campus, and that it was largely left to the “overburdened” teachers to look after the welfare of their students.
Expressing “serious concerns” over these findings, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), headed by former Chief Justice of India H L Dattu had issued a notice to the school education secretary in the HRD Ministry on January 1, seeking a response within six weeks.
“The Commission has observed that the contents of the media report, if true, cannot be ignored or overlooked as this reported pattern of suicides by so many students in JNVs might still increase, if not checked in time with appropriate measures… The proportion of suicides of students from the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities is also a matter of concern for a society, which aspires for an inclusive growth,” the NHRC said in its notice to the HRD Ministry.
The Commission asked the Ministry to submit its response on whether trained counsellors were available on campus, whether there were dedicated staff to ensure students were not left alone in their rooms, and whether students had access to emergency assistance through counselling over telephone and a suicide hotline service.
The matter was also raised in Parliament by Congress Rajya Sabha MP Viplove Thakur during the recently-concluded Winter Session.
Following the publication of The Indian Express report, the HRD Ministry set up a task force in the last week of December, headed by psychiatrist Dr Jitendra Nagpal, to look into the circumstances leading to the suicides by students, and to suggest ways to arrest the trend. The committee is expected to submit its interim report next week, and the final report in February.
The Ministry also submitted a proposal to the Department of Expenditure seeking its approval for the Rs 56 crore expenditure. The approval came this week.