(Trigger warning: Mentions of suicide.)
Yet another student in Rajasthan's Kota died by suicide on Monday, 18 September – the same day as a 15-member high-level committee submitted a report to Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot-led government, recommending policy changes to improve the well-being of students in the city.
17-year-old Priyam Singh was a resident of Mau in Uttar Pradesh – and had been in Kota for over one year to prepare for NEET-UG. Her death has taken the number of suicide cases in the coaching hub to 25 this year alone – the highest in at least eight years. The number of suicide cases in Kota last year was reportedly 15.
Nearly a month ago, on 19 August, Gehlot had ordered the formation of the committee under the supervision of Bhawani Detha, secretary of higher education, to recommend policy-level changes that can curb student suicides. The total number of cases stood at 22 then.
Even as the committee is yet to make its recommendations public, FIT spoke to some of the stakeholders to understand the possible solutions underway to control the suicide cases.
'Coaching Staff as First Responders'
A government official, who is a part of the said committee, told FIT that they have recommended "gatekeeper training" to teachers of coaching institutes. They said:
"Gatekeeper training on how to handle crisis situations as first responders should be provided to everyone in the system – from people working at coaching centres to the staff at hostels and canteens."
They further added, "Career counselling and awareness about more career opportunities should be provided to students. Orientation to teachers should be mandatorily given on how to deal with students."
In addition, last month, Chief Minister Gehlot had himself recommended that students of Classes 9 and 10 should not be admitted to coaching institutes.
“You are committing a crime in a way by enrolling students of Classes 9 and 10 in coaching institutes. It is also the parents’ fault. Students face the burden of clearing the board exams and preparing for entrance exams."Ashok Gehlot
On 28 August, the district administration in Kota had ordered a stay on conducting tests at coaching centres for two months following the death of two NEET aspirants in a span of four hours.
Following the consecutive deaths, Detha even interacted with representatives of coaching centres and hostel associations as well as with the Collector and other officers – and made the following recommendations:
Coaching centre operators to hold half-time classes (three hours) for students every Wednesday and organise other activities for the rest of the day
A committee of subject experts to give recommendations on reducing the course content
An inquiry into the eligibility of counselors
Motivational speakers to be called on a large-scale, and their videos to be uploaded on YouTube
Online forms for students to report problems
A stakeholder from the Kota Hostel Owner Association told FIT that their recommendations to the Detha-led team were also on similar lines.
A weekly holiday for students
Regular recreational activities
They further demanded that at least one counsellor should be appointed in each hostel – and a communication bridge be maintained between hostels/PGs and coaching institutes.
"Spring fans should also be installed in every hostel and PG room in Kota to prevent deaths by suicide. "A stakeholder from the Kota Hostel Owner Association
Further, the police have sent a proposal to the government to open a student police station.
SP Sharad Chaudhary, along with ASP Shriman Meena, in a proposal, said the said police station can look into the problems of the students of the entire city.
ASP Meena reportedly said that the police has taken this decision on the basis of data of five years. It will have a full staff of 60, including one DSP, one Inspector, three Sub-Inspector, six ASIs, Head Constable, and Constable.
The administrative officers, social organisations, hostel and coaching people will also be added. Lastly, whether the FIR should be registered or not, the government will decide after seeing the proposal.
Apart from these recommendations, Hindustan Times also reported some other measures that are likely to be recommended.
The process to take refunds from coaching institutes and hostels would be made easier
A permanent students’ cell to be formed for students to reach out to
Spreading awareness about mental health helplines like TeleMANAS
What the Older Bill Said
This is not the first time that the Rajasthan government has considered policy-level changes to regulate the running of private coaching centres in Kota. In January this year, the government formulated the Rajasthan Coaching Institutes (Control and Regulations) Bill, 2023, to lay down guidelines about the curriculum of coaching institutes, establishing any new centres, tuition fee, and appointment of teachers, among others.
The objective of the bill stated:
"A Bill to provide for the control and regulation of private coaching institutes of the state, to register and regulate such institutes, monitor cost of required study material and other charges levied by coaching institutes, to take care of interests of students and their guardians, to reduce stress among students enrolled in these coaching institutes and to provide better academic support in preparation of different competitive examinations and admission into specialised institutions etc."
Some major points from the bill included:
Coaching would need to "clarify" their curriculum and the duration for completion of curriculum with the district authority, along with the number of maximum students
Coaching institutes would have to issue an annual prospectus with their tuition fee mentioned on it
All coaching would need to have "arrangements for stress management and control"
Coaching institutes would also have to have policies regarding "fee refund and easy exit"
If any coaching institute violates the guidelines, they will be liable to a penalty
This bill, though was supposed to be tabled in the Assembly this year, faced objections by lawmakers. However, after the 15-member committee's report is tabled, their recommendations may become the basis for new policies for coaching institutes in Kota.