Nearly 100 Indian school pupils hospitalised after eating free school meal near Mumbai

'Ninety-seven have been admitted to hospital a few of them are critical,' says deputy police chief of Palghar district

97 children have been hospitalised with suspected food poisoning after eating a free school meal at a government-run school near Mumbai.

Speaking to AFP, Shrikrishna Kokate, deputy police chief of Palghar district in the western state of Maharashtra said some of the children were in critical condition.

“Ninety-seven have been admitted to hospital, a few of them are critical. They started vomiting after eating their midday meal,” said Mrs Kokate.

"We have sent teams to the school to take samples. It looks to be a case of food poisoning." 

The exact ages of the children have yet to be confirmed but Mrs Kokate says the pupils are aged between six and 14.

The Indian government's midday meal programme provides cooked meals to 120 million children every day in over a million different schools and is the largest in the world.

For many children this is their only substantial daily meal.

But incompetence and corruption hinders the arrangement and it is common for pupils to fall ill after consuming contaminated and badly prepared food.

In 2013 more than 20 children died after eating toxic school lunches which were laced with pesticide in Northern India's Bihar state.

Forensic scientists found the compound monocrotophos which is used as an insecticide and is toxic to humans in samples of the food. 

After the news emerged, angry parents and protesters took to Bihar's streets to protest against the deaths.