School head arrested over mass poisoning

2013-07-24 20:08
Indian children who fell ill after eating the daily free lunch undergo treatment in Patna, India.

Indian children who fell ill after eating the daily free lunch undergo treatment in Patna, India. (AP)

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

India - Police on Wednesday arrested the head of a school in eastern India where 23 children died after eating a free meal laced with a lethal pesticide, an officer said.

The children, aged four to 12, fell ill within minutes of eating the lunch of lentils, potatoes and rice cooked at their primary school in a poverty-stricken village in Bihar state on 16 July.

"The principal surrendered... and we have arrested her for questioning," said Sujeet Kumar, police chief of Saran district where the incident occurred.

"We need to talk to her first before framing charges," the official said by telephone.

Police have been searching for the teacher, Meena Devi, who apparently fled shortly after the tragedy in Gandaman village, which also left some 30 children ill in hospital and sparked angry street protests.

Saran district administrator Abhijit Sinha told AFP that the teacher was key to resolving the issue of just how the deadly chemicals ended up in the food.

"She is the right person to explain how the poison was mixed with the cooking oil," Sinha said.

Oil used to cook the food contained an agricultural insecticide that was five times the strength sold in the marketplace, a forensic report after the tragedy found.

Police said they raided Devi's home in the village last week where ingredients for the meal and cooking oil were kept.

Kids buried next to school

Anguished parents buried many of the children on a playing field next to the primary school, in protest against the tragedy.

Some of the poverty-stricken parents told how they had only sent their children to the one-room school to ensure they received at least one meal a day.

Others have said their children survived after refusing to eat the food because of its foul odour. Children started falling ill within minutes of eating the meal, vomiting and complaining of stomach pains.

Video footage showed listless children being rushed to hospitals, their heads lolling from side to side and their limbs hanging limply. Distraught parents have told of carrying their children in their arms while driving their motorbikes to a hospital in the hope of saving them.

Feeding programme

Free lunches are offered to some 120 million schoolchildren throughout India in what is the world's largest school feeding programme. Bihar is one of the country's poorest and most densely-populated states.

Educators see the midday meal 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.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar promised a thorough investigation into the "sad tragedy".

"The police have formed a special investigation team... we will punish those who are guilty," Kumar told a news conference in the state capital Patna.

The chief minister also denied opposition claims that medical delays led to a higher number of deaths.

"The response times were the quickest possible and the doctors tried their best to save lives," he said.

The state government has announced plans to pay compensation of nearly $4 000 to families who lost their loved ones.

The tragedy has sparked concern about the midday meal programme, with reports from some schools of children dumping their meals in bins or refusing even to touch them.

Twenty children were hospitalised last Friday after they ate lunch at school in the state of Goa. They were released after treatment.

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
1 comment
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.