A preliminary investigation into the death of 22 children who consumed a mid-day meal at a government school in Bihar's Saran district suggests the food had traces of an organo-phosphate, used as an insecticide on rice and wheat crops. It is believed the food was not washed before it was served at the school.
The Bihar education minister PK Sahi said, “It was not a case of food-poisoning but poisoning. It is a matter of investigation now to check if the poison was added unintentionally or there were some malafide intentions involved”.
While the chief minister, Nitish Kumar, has ordered a high-level enquiry into the incident, senior officials at the CMO said a Forensic Science Laboratory team will assist in the probe, which will be conducted jointly by Saran divisional commissioner and DIG.
The children fell ill soon after eating the meal, which consisted of rice, pulse and soya. The meal was cooked in the school kitchen, but school authorities stopped serving the meal as children started vomiting.
Organo-phosphorus pesticides target the nervous system, respiratory tract and cardiovascular system. It leads to respiratory, myocardial and neuromuscular transmission impairment.
In moderate cases, it can lead to symptoms such as nausea, salivation, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, sweating and hypertension. In severe cases, it can cause non-reactive pupils, respiratory depression, pulmonary edema, convulsions, coma, cardiac ischaemia, cardiac dysrhythmias, and hyperglycaemia. Paralysis can also occur in some cases.
While 16 children, aged below 10 years and studying in Class I to V, had died in Chhapra itself, four others were declared dead on arrival at PMCH late last night.
A female cook who had prepared the meal is also dead. In the past, dead lizards, frogs, insects and a rat were found in food cooked for the midday meal, angering students and parents.