The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Free lunch at Indian school sickens dozens of children, killing 22; insecticide suspected

  • Print

PATNA, India - The children started falling violently ill soon after they ate the free school lunch of rice, lentils, soybeans and potatoes.

The food, part of a program that gives poor Indian students at least one hot meal a day, was tainted with insecticide, and soon 22 of the students were dead and dozens were hospitalized, officials said Wednesday.

It was not immediately clear how chemicals ended up in the food at the school in the eastern state of Bihar. One official said that the food may not have been properly washed before it was cooked.

The children, between the ages of 5 and 12, got sick soon after eating lunch Tuesday in Gandamal village in Masrakh block, 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of the state capital of Patna. School authorities immediately stopped serving the meal as the children started vomiting.

Savita, a 12-year-old student who uses only one name, said she had a stomach ache after eating soybeans and potatoes and started vomiting.

"I don't know what happened after that," Savita said in an interview at Patna Medical College Hospital, where she and many other children were recovering.

The lunch was cooked in the school kitchen.

The children were rushed to a local hospital and later to Patna for treatment, said state official Abhijit Sinha.

In addition to the 22 children who died, another 25 children and the school cook were in hospital undergoing treatment, P.K. Sahi, the state education minister. Three children were in serious condition.

Authorities suspended an official in charge of the free meal scheme in the school and registered a case of criminal negligence against the school headmistress, who fled as soon as the children fell ill.

Angry villagers, joined by members of local opposition parties, closed shops and businesses near the school and overturned and burned four police vehicles.

Sahi said a preliminary investigation suggested the food contained an organophosphate used as an insecticide on rice and wheat crops. It's believed the grain was not washed before it was served at the school, he said.

However, local villagers said the problem appeared to be with a side dish of soybeans and potatoes, not grain. Children who had not eaten that dish were fine, although they had eaten the rice and lentils, several villagers told the AP.

Sinha said the cooked food and kitchen utensils have been seized by investigators. "Whether it was a case of negligence or was intentional, we will only know once the inquiry has been conducted," he said.

India's midday meal scheme is one of the world's biggest school nutrition programs. State governments have the freedom to decide on menus and timings of the meals, depending on local conditions and availability of food rations. It was first introduced in southern India, where it was seen as an incentive for poor parents to send their children to school.

Since then the program has been replicated across the country, covering some 120 million school children. It's as part of an effort to address concerns about malnutrition, which the government says nearly half of all Indian children suffer from.

Although there have been occasional complaints about the quality of the food served, or the lack of hygiene, the tragedy in Bihar appeared to be unprecedented for the massive food program.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Huge vigil held in support of Tina Fontaine, Faron Hall

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A female Mallard duck leads a group of duckings on a morning swim through the reflections in the Assiniboine River at The Forks Monday.     (WAYNE GLOWACKI/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS) Winnipeg Free Press  June 18 2012
  • RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS June 23, 2011 Local - A Monarch butterfly is perched on a flower  in the newly opened Butterfly Garden in Assiniboine Park Thursday morning.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you agree with the mandatory helmet law for cyclists under 18?

View Results

Ads by Google