Nitish Kumar orders high level inquiry into the incident

Nine primary school children lost their lives and nearly 50 others fell seriously ill after eating mid-day meal in Bihar’s Saran district on Tuesday All affected children, aged between three and 12, were admitted to the government hospital in Chapra, Saran.

The children died of “food poisoning and yellow phosphorous poisoning,” district civil surgeon Shambhunath Singh told The Hindu.

“The children were admitted with symptoms of poisoning such as fever, vomiting, abdominal pain and frothing at the mouth.”

The menu in the Gandaman primary school in Jajauli panchayat in Mashrakh block consisted of rice, dal and potato and soyabean vegetable. “Since this is a newly-established school, it did not have a building and was operating from the panchayat bhavan. The food was stored in the house of the headmistress, whose two children are all ill. The two cooks are also unwell,” Amarjit Sinha, Principal Secretary, Health department, told The Hindu.

Mr. Sinha said the children were responding positively to atropine, which indicated that these were cases of poisoning due to pesticide. Forensic experts were rushed to the spot to and food samples taken.

Expressing grief, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar promised strict action against those responsible for the incident. The Divisional Commissioner of Chapra and the Deputy Inspector-General of Police will conduct a joint probe and submit a report to Mr. Kumar. The State government announced a compensation of Rs. 2 lakh to each of the families of the deceased children.

The school, established in 2010, had an enrolment of 89 children, of whom 58 were present on Tuesday. New schools sanctioned in Bihar usually operate from whatever government building is available. This is due to non-availability of land for a separate school building.

In an official statement, the Human Resource Development Ministry said senior officer Amarjeet Singh was rushed to Bihar for assessing the situation at the place of incident.