Villagers turn violent; set fire to four police vehicles

Widespread protests erupted in Chapra, Saran district, on Wednesday after 22 children died from poisoning after consuming a mid-day meal in their school on Tuesday.

Political parties who flayed both the government for its delay in responding to the tragedy, and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for his silence over the issue, called for a bandh in Chapra.

People from Gandaman village where the school is located, and people from neighbouring villages, staged violent protests in Mashrakh block.

“All the victims are from the Gandaman village. A police team had gone there in the morning to help with the cremations. However, as early as 6.30 a.m.,a mob started pelting stones. There was heavy brick batting. People set fire to four police vehicles. The police had to retreat in light of the protests,” Superintendent of Police Sujeet Kumar, told The Hindu.

A complete bandh was observed in Chapra as all Opposition parties took to the streets. A delegation of the Bharatiya Janata Party was stopped in Chapra town and was not allowed to go to the village.

“There was commotion all around in Chapra. A protest or bandh never starts this early. In the village the police was confronted by 3,000 villagers. While the protests went off peacefully in Chapra, in Mashrakh block, the police will lodge a First Information Report relating to the burning of vehicles,” Mr. Kumar said.

The government on Wednesday refuted charges of delay in providing treatment. State Education Minister P.K Shahi stated that the administration’s response was quick.

“As facilities for attending to a sudden large number of patients were not available at the primary health centre, the children were brought to the district hospital. From there they were shifted to Patna. All the children were diagnosed correctly and treated accordingly. At Chapra too, all the measures were taken. The government has taken all the steps to provide the best treatment to the victims,” Mr. Shahi said.

The minister said implementing the mid-day meal scheme in73,000 schools in the State was “a big challenge as one had to ensure that good quality food was provided within limited funds.” Large scale local corruption was also to be blamed, he said.

At the Patna Medical College and Hospital, where 24 children are still under medical care, a team of 10 paediatricians is attending to the mid-day meal victims.

‘Bihar, submit report’

Special Correspondent writes from New Delhi:

The Human Resource Development Ministry has sought a report from the Bihar government on Tuesday’s mid-day meal tragedy in Chapra in which 22 children died.

“It is a very sad incident and we are deeply pained at the loss of lives of children,” HRD Minister M.M. Pallam Raju told reporters here on Wednesday. He said it looked like a case of food contamination and asked the States to exercise caution while implementing the mid-day meal scheme. “It is an aberration. Although it is an unfortunate incident, it is not a recurring thing.” An FIR had been lodged against the school principal.

The Ministry is the nodal agency for implementing the programme. The Minister said investigation was on and during probe it would be ascertained if guidelines were followed.

While School Education secretary Rajarshi Bhattacharya spoke to the Chief Secretary on Wednesday morning, Additional Secretary in the Ministry Amarjit Singh, who was sent to collect first-hand report on the incident, is expected to return late on Wednesday.