Zee Media Bureau
Patna: With the death of two more children, the toll due to consumption of spurious mid-day meal at a government primary school in Bihar`s Saran district rose to 22 on Wednesday.
While 16 children, aged below 10 years and studying in Class I to V, had died in Chhapra itself, four others were declared dead on arrival at Patna Medical College Hospital (PMCH) late last night. Two died at the hospital this morning, official and PMCH sources said, as the tragedy triggered protests.
A preliminary investigation suggests the food had traces of an organophosphate used as an insecticide on rice and wheat crops. It’s believed the food was not washed before it was served at the school.
Organo-phosphorus pesticides have an effect on nervous system, respiratory tract and cardiovascular system.
According to Bihar Education Minister PK Sahi, "It was not a case of food poisoning but poisoning. It is a matter of investigation now to check if the poison was added unintentionally or there were some malafide intentions involved”.
"The food may not have been washed before it was served at the school," he has been quoted as saying by a news channel.
Amarjeet Singh, principal secretary, education, confirmed the toll and said he suspected the deaths occurred by organo phosphorous poisoning caused by traces of insecticides.
District Magistrate Abhijit Sinha said 10 children died after eating the mid-day meal at Dharamsati primary school in Masrakh in Saran district, about 100 km from here. Later, eleven more children died and more than 60 fell ill.
Over two dozen sick children have been brought to the Patna Medical College and Hospital after their condition deteriorated.
"Ten children are still critical," a hospital official said.
Hundreds of people have been protesting in Saran since late Tuesday night, demanding strict action against government officials responsible for the tragedy.
Twenty dead children were buried near the school.
A case has been registered against the school`s headmistress Meena Devi and other teachers.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar expressed shock over the incident and announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh to the kin of each of the dead school children.
The deaths triggered a political row with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Wednesday calling Nitish Kumar "insensitive".
In Bihar, widespread corruption is reported in the mid-day meal scheme and government guidelines on food quality are ignored.
In the past, dead lizards, frogs, insects and a rat were found in food cooked for the mid-day meal at schools, angering students and parents.
(With IANS inputs)