Patna: The Bihar government has assigned the criminal investigation department the probe into the large number of instances of poisoning of water in schools in the state, police officials said Monday.
Reports of children taking ill after drinking water from hand-pumps were received from at least 50 schools in different parts of the state over the past few days.
These reports come close on the heels of the July 16 tragedy in Saran district, when 23 children died after eating their mid-day meal, later found to contain a poisonous substance used to manufacture insecticide.
Water-related morbidity in children was reported from schools in Saran, Gopalganj, Darbhanga, Sheikhpura, Siwan, Purnea, Jehanabad, Sitamarhi, Arwal, Nalanda, Madhubani, Samastipur, Muzaffarpur and West Champaran districts.
Three days ago, at least 66 children, mostly girls of Kasturba Gandhi School, were taken ill after drinking water from a handpump in Sitamarhi district.
Thirty children took ill last Thursday after drinking water from hand-pumps in Saran and Gopalganj districts, officials said.
"CID is probing such incidents in more than 50 schools in 14 districts of the state in the last few days," a police official said, adding that besides sealing some hand-pumps, the team was also examining whether there was an organised gang involved.
On condition of anonymity, a police officer told IANS that the probe would also examine whether rumours have a role in the case.
The Forensic Science Laboratory report of water samples from the poisoned hand-pumps would be received in a day or two, an official said.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has asked Director General of Police Abhayanand to initiate a probe into such incidents. He reportedly told Janata Dal-United leaders that the incidents were "giving him sleepless nights".
At a public function recently, the chief minister said: "I am really worried as after the contaminated mid-day meal tragedy, reports of poison being mixed in hand-pumps at schools are now coming in from various places."
There are ruling party members who suspect that a plot to defame the government is being played out, and that the poisoning of children is being engineered to damage the reputation of the government.