Coincidence or negligence does not result in such a large-scale tragedy, says Nitish Kumar

Eight days after the tragic mid-day meal incident in Bihar, the police on Wednesday arrested Meena Devi, principal of Dharmasati Gandaman Primary School, who had been absconding. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar hinted at a conspiracy, saying coincidence or negligence did not result in such a large-scale tragedy. He said the administration responded in the quickest possible time.

“The principal, who is an important accused, is in police custody. The police will investigate from all angles,” Mr. Kumar said at a press conference here.

The police, who had launched a widespread search for Ms. Meena, arrested her, based on local intelligence.

“She is being interrogated at a safe place. Rations came from her place pointing to her involvement to an extent,” Director-General of Police Abhayanand said. The police probe focussed on the conspiracy angle as intention “outweighed” negligence.

“The concentration of poison in the food was higher in comparison to commercial preparations. Prima facie inquiries have found that this cannot happen by mistake. The high level of poison is an outstanding factor. Intention is inferred from the level of injury. Since there has been a large number of deaths, prima facie it looks like there was an intention,” Mr. Abhayanand said.

The police are also gathering evidence against Ms. Meena’s husband, Arjun Rai, to establish his role. “We have some evidence of his complicity. He came to the school on the fateful day at the time when the food was being cooked. He used to arrange for provisions for the mid-day meal. His involvement is clear, but the material we have so far won’t be enough to secure an arrest warrant against him. We are trying to cull out more information,” informed sources told The Hindu.

So far, the police have not found any evidence of intra-village enmity as a possible motive behind the incident. They have also discounted the caste hatred angle, as children from all castes, including the principal’s Yadav community, have died.

The FIR against Ms. Meena has serious charges of murder, attempt to murder, causing hurt by means of poison and criminal conspiracy. The police have spoken of conducting polygraph and brain mapping tests on her, if required.

We responded quickly, says Nitish

Mr. Kumar defended the government’s action saying it responded in the quickest possible time. “Our response time was the quickest. I was receiving updates by the minute. In Chapra the treatment given was the same as in Patna. The doctors there were confident that the children’s condition would improve, but it deteriorated. They worked very hard. It is not appropriate to blame the doctors. In Patna too, two children died. The administration took immediate steps. This is not the case for a blame game,” Mr. Kumar said, addressing his first press conference after the incident.

‘No commonplace event’

Asked about his claim of a political conspiracy behind the incident, Mr. Kumar said: “Such an incident does not happen due to negligence or as a coincidence. Children were forced to eat the food when they protested. The poison concentration was very high. This is not a commonplace occurrence which can be termed a coincidence. Beyond this, I will not say anything as it will be construed as an attempt to influence the probe.”

He refuted the allegations that he was silent on the incident. “I am not one to remain silent or sit at home. I was inconvenienced by a physical condition [he had hurt his leg]. One thing that surprises and confounds me greatly is who would have a bone to pick with children? This is one of the saddest, most heartrending incidents of my public life,” he said.