Protests erupt after contaminated school meals kill 22 children in India

Angry parents take to the streets after deadly outbreak of sickness at school in northern India

Goa

Angry crowds took to the streets of India’s Bihar state to protest over the deaths of at least 22 school children who ate poisoned food provided through a scheme monitored under a £25m UK government programme.

The children fell ill after eating a meal of rice with soybeans and potatoes prepared with oil apparently contaminated with insecticide.

The headmaster of the school – located around 25km from the city of Chhapra in the Saran district of Bihar – is reported to have fled the school when the children started vomiting. Police have registered a case of criminal negligence against him.

Furious parents besieged the local police station after the children started to fall ill, protesting that many would have survived had the school acted more quickly to provide medical assistance. At least 80 other children from the Navsrijit Primary School were affected by the outbreak, with several said to be in a critical condition.

Reports locally said that there had been previous poisoning cases in the area linked to the Midday Meal programme, one of the key planks of the Indian government’s anti-poverty strategy. The Midday Meal Scheme in Bihar is monitored by the UK government through a £25m grant from the Department for International Development (DfID) for its Poorest Areas Civil Society Programme Phase II, which is due to run until 2015.

The DfID programme is intended to help eight million people from the poorer elements of Indian society in seven states, including Bihar, through grants and capacity-building support to civil society organisations. A DFID spokesman said UK money did not directly fund the scheme but helped to monitor the way it was implemented: “DFID does not fund the Midday Meal Scheme in Bihar. Our support to PACS helps communities to effectively monitor the implementation of the scheme.”

Oxfam India demanded a full investigation into the deaths and said it had previously raised concerns about the programme “because of lack of funds, poor quality food and highly inadequate monitoring of just a handful of schools once or twice a year.”

The dead were reported to include two children of one of the school cooks. Last night there were still fears that the death toll would rise. One school cook is also reported to be receiving hospital treatment. One 12-year-old pupil, Savita, said that she suffered a stomach ache after eating the meal and started to be sick. “I don’t know what happened after that,” she said.

Raja Yadav, the father of one young victim, said: “As soon as my boy returned from school, we rushed to the hospital with him.”

Initial tests suggested that the food had been contaminated with an organophosphate chemical used as an insecticide on wheat and rice crops.

Suspicions fell on a new type of cooking oil used to prepare the meal. State education minister PK Shahi said the school cook had told him the oil looked “discoloured and dodgy” but her concerns were ignored by teachers who said it was safe. Some teachers also suggested the food may have been stored in contaminated containers.

R K Singh, the medical superintendent at the children’s hospital in the state capital, Patna, said: “We feel that some kind of insecticide was either accidentally or intentionally mixed in the food, but that will be clear through investigations. We prepared antidotes and treated the children for organic phosphorous poisoning.”

The opposition BJP party criticised the time it took for children to be taken to hospital. “It took 15 hours to evacuate kids, it’s only after 17 kids died the authorities decided to shift them at midnight,” said BJP leader Pratap Rudy.

Protesting villagers set four police vehicles alight and police reinforcements had to be drafted in as anger spilled over. The state has offered compensation of Rs 200,000 for each child who died.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
tech
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas