The National Human Rights Commission has asked the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development to respond within six weeks to its notice on reported suicides at Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas.

The schools are run by the Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti, which is an autonomous organisation under the Department of School Education and Literacy of the ministry.

Expressing “serious concern”, the commission on Tuesday took suo motu cognisance of a report published last month in The Indian Express that cited records obtained under the Right To Information Act to reveal that 49 students of the residential schools allegedly committed suicide on campus between 2013 and 2017. Of the 49, half were Dalit and Adivasi students and a majority were boys. Everyone – except seven – hanged themselves, the report said.

The commission asked the ministry whether Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya students have access to trained counsellors and if the schools have dedicated staff members who ensure that children are not left alone in their rooms. The ministry was also asked if the students have access to emergency assistance measures such as counselling over phone and suicide hotline services.

“The proportion of the suicides of the 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 commission said. “It is a matter of fact that teenagers during this age face difficulties as they undergo a transition into adulthood.”

The commission said it cannot ignore or overlook the news report “as this reported pattern of suicides by so many students in JNVs [Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas] might still increase if not checked in time with appropriate measures”.