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
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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 Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'