Zee Media Bureau
Patna: The Bihar mid-day meal tragedy, which claimed the lives of at least 22 students, on Wednesday witnessed a bitter war of words between the ruling Janta Dal (U), which alleged a political conspiracy behind the incident, and the opposition parties attacked the Nitish Kumar government for being "insensitive" .
With two more school students dying this morning due to food poisoning after consuming mid-day meal at a government primary school in Bihar`s Saran district, the toll rose to 22.
While 16 children, aged below 10 years and studying in Class I to V, died in Chhapra, four others were declared dead on arrival at Patna Medical College Hospital (PMCH) late last night.
The incident took place in Dharamsati primary school in Masrakh in Saran district. The children belonging to the age group of 8 to 12 years fell ill soon after eating the meal, which consisted of rice, pulse and soyabean.
A case was later registered against the school`s headmistress Meena Devi and other teachers.
Principal Secretary, Education, Amarjeet Sinha said that he suspected the deaths occurred by organo phosphorous poisoning caused due to traces of insecticides.
Under attack from the opposition over the death of 22 school children after consumption of mid-day meal at Saran, the Bihar government today said it suspected a ‘political conspiracy’ behind the tragedy.
"The deaths were not due to food poisoning but it`s a clear case of mixing poison in food," state Education Minister P K Shahi told reporters here.
Shahi said doctors attending the students at Chhapra Sadar Hospital have reported that the children had died due to the presence of poisonous organic phosphorous in the food.
"From where did this organic phosphorous come in the food given to students as part of the mid-day meal scheme?" Shahi asked and told the police to investigate the matter.
The Minister also hinted at the involvement of opposition RJD in the tragedy though he did not make any direct reference.
"Arjun Rai, the husband of the school headmistress, had supplied the food material for the midday meal. He is an active member of a party and cousin of local leader Dhruv Rai of Mashrakh, who is close to a prominent leader of a party (RJD)," he said.
Rai, Shahi said, owns the grocery shop from where the materials were taken by the school headmistress Meena Devi for the midday meal scheme.
Shahi also told that one of the cooks detected a foul smell emanating from the cooking oil. However, she did not pay much heed to that.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar expressed shock over the incident and announced a compensation of Rs.2 lakh to the kins of each of the dead school children.
The BJP demanded resignation of Nitish Kumar on moral grounds, while RJD chief Lalu Prasad blamed the deaths on rampant corruption in welfare schemes and rejected the conspiracy theory.
Centre, NHRC seek report
The NHRC and the centre sought a detailed report from the Bihar government on the mid-day meal tragedy.
Union Human Resource Development Minister MM Pallam Raju said in New Delhi, "It is very sad to know about ... food poisoning. We have taken serious note of what has happened."
While the politics continued over the Chhapra mid-day meal tragedy, about 50 children of another government school were taken ill today after they were served food under the scheme in Madhubani district of the state.
The food was served to students of Navtolia Middle School, Bisfi, about 22 km from here. The students alleged that the meal had a dead lizard in it.
A pall of gloom hung over Dandaman village where the students and the cook died.
The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) Wednesday called for closer monitoring of the mid-day meal scheme.
Bandh in Saran district
In view of the Chhapra mid-day meal tragedy, a day-long Saran bandh was called by three parties - RJD, BJP and LJP.
The bandh evoked good response with all markets closed and vehicular traffic almost nil in Chapra town, reports said.
Though schools, colleges, banks and government offices were open, thin attendance was recorded in all the institutions. Policemen wielded lathis at some places in Chapra to quell stone pelting protesters, the sources said.
Leader of Opposition in Bihar Assembly Nand Kishore Yadav, his counterpart in Legislative Council Sushil Kumar Modi and state party president Mangal Pandey also went there to meet the families of the children.
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.