Bihar mid-day meal tragedy: Headmistress absconding; Nitish cornered

With 12 more children dying, the number killed by contaminated mid-day meal served in a school in Bihar rose to 23 including a cook.

Zee Media Bureau

Patna: With 12 more children dying, the number killed by contaminated mid-day meal served in a school in Bihar rose on Wednesday to 23 including a cook, authorities said.

As the unprecedented deaths in Dandaman village in Saran sparked off street protests in Bihar, no arrests have been made in the case yet. A case has been registered against the school`s headmistress, Meena Devi, and other teachers. All of them are absconding.

The deaths have triggered a war of words between the government of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, which blamed the supplier of foods for the tragedy, and an aggressive opposition, including the estranged ally BJP.

Shockingly, the state CM has not yet visited the hospital where the ill have been admitted. He has also been tagged by some of the BJP leaders as an "insensitive CM".

"The Chief Minister, instead of showing promptness in evacuating the children to a better medical facility, has announced a ex-gratia amount of Rs 2 lakh for the children who died," BJP`s Rajiv Pratap Rudy said.

In fact, Bihar Education Minister PK Shahi said there could have been a conspiracy to poison the mid-day meal in school that killed 23 children in Saran district.

Shahi told the media that autopsies of the children revealed that organo-Phosphorous had been injected into the meal.

He alleged that the school principal`s husband, Arjun Rai, belonged to an opposition party.

"All the food items used to be brought from his grocery shop. It is a matter of an inquiry how poison was used," Shahi said.

The national mid-day meal scheme is the world`s largest school feeding programme reaching out to some 12 crore children in 12.65 lakh schools and education centres across India.

According to statistics, 22,102 government schools in Bihar that serve mid-day meals do not have kitchens. In 7,235 schools, the storage room is under construction.

In Bihar, the mid-day meal scheme has often into controversy. In the past, dead lizards, frogs, insects and even a rat have been found in food cooked for the mid-day meal in schools.

(With IANS inputs)