Indian kids refuse free meals after deaths

2013-07-18 10:07
A man vandalises flower pots at the office of the free school lunch scheme in Patna, India. (AP)

A man vandalises flower pots at the office of the free school lunch scheme in Patna, India. (AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories


India school meal kills 21 kids

2013-07-17 09:25

At least 21 children have died and dozens are in hospital after eating free meals at a primary school in the eastern India, officials have said. Watch.WATCH

Patna - Thousands of schoolchildren were refusing free meals in poverty-stricken eastern India after 22 children died from eating lunch apparently contaminated with insecticide, officials said on Thursday.

Authorities were trying to reassure frightened students and parents in the state of Bihar as police stepped up their investigation into the tragedy, focusing on the school headmistress who has fled.

The 22 children, aged four to 12, died after eating lentils, vegetables and rice cooked at a village school on Tuesday, sparking violent protests from angry residents.

About 30 children remain ill in hospitals in the state capital Patna and the city of Chhapra after eating the food, which initial tests showed may have been tainted with insecticide.

Children elsewhere in the state were dumping their meals in bins or refusing even to touch them, despite pleas from school officials that the tragedy would not recur, a senior state government official said.

"Parents have warned their children to not even touch the meal served in the school," Lakshmanan, who uses only one name, said.

Largest school feeding programme

"Some of the students dumped the lunch in school dustbins and we are trying to convince everyone that the tragedy will not be repeated," said Lakshmanan, director of the midday meal scheme in Bihar.

India's state governments run the world's largest school feeding programme involving 120 million children. Bihar is one of India's most populated and poorest states.

Educators see the scheme as a way to increase school attendance, in a country where almost half of all young children are undernourished. But children often suffer from food poisoning due to poor hygiene in kitchens and occasionally sub-standard food.

Authorities have instructed all teachers and cooks in the state to first taste the free lunch before serving to the children.

"We will have to make parents believe that mid-day meals provide nutrition and are not meant to kill students," said Lakshmanan.

Police conducted raids on Wednesday night across the district of Saran, where the village school is located.

Foul-smelling mustard oil

They raided the home of the headmistress Meena Kumari, who fled after the children started dying on Tuesday, a senior officer said on condition of anonymity.

"We found two containers filled with insecticide in the headmistress's house along with pulses, vegetables and rice allotted for the midday meals," said the officer, who is investigating the deaths.

State education minister PK Shahi said on Wednesday police were probing whether the food was accidentally or possibly deliberately poisoned.

Media reports also quoted villagers as saying the use of contaminated, foul-smelling mustard oil for cooking might have caused the deaths.

A state government minister has said the cook complained to the headmistress about the smell of the oil before going ahead on Tuesday.

But the headmistress allegedly dismissed her concerns, the minister said.


Parents have accused the state government and emergency officials of failing to react swiftly to the crisis. One father described how he and other parents carried their children on motorbikes to a hospital because there were no ambulances.

"Four of us [each] carried a child's body on motorcycles and people say there is a government in Bihar," Satendra Mishra told the Indian Express newspaper.

"If there is one, why has no official reached the village yet?"

Video footage has shown emotional and chaotic scenes at one hospital in Chhapra, as children, their limbs dangling and heads lolling, were carried inside. Other children, lying listless on stretchers, were placed on intravenous drips as outside, inconsolable relatives wept.

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar announced compensation of $3 373 for each of the bereaved families.

Read more on:    india

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.