The principal of thegovernment school in Chhapra whose 23 children died in the midday meal tragedy suspected to have been caused by poisoned food was absconding, as it emerged that the free food served did not undergo any quality checks.
The death toll rose to 23 after it came to the knowledge of the district administration today that one child was buried by family members without keeping the authorities informed, Saran District Magistrate Abhijit Sinha said. 24 children and a woman cook Manju Devi were under treatment at the Patna Medical College and Hospital.
No arrests have been made, two days after the incident, as a mass grave outside the primary school at Dharmasati Gandavan village where the dead were buried bore mute testimony to the tragedy. "This school will not run... we will not allow it," said Rakeshwar Mahato who lost his grand-daughter in the tragedy.
"This is where our children were murdered," he said, defending the decision to bury the children just outside the school premises as a mark of protest by the families. Sinha told PTI that Meena Devi, the principal of the school, is absconding along with her husband and the police was conducting raids at their possible hideouts.
The grocery from where the items for the midday meal were brought belonged to Meena's husband, it was stated. The principal, against whom an FIR has been lodged, has already been suspended by the state administration. Amardeep Sinha, Principal Secretary, Bihar said the case seemed to be one of "poisoning of food" and not "food poisoning."
He said the State Forensic Science Laborotary (SLFL) was conducting investigations and their report would be out tomorrow. State education minister P K Sahi said yesterday a preliminary investigation suggested that the food served to the children contained an organophosphate used as an insecticide on rice and wheat crops. He also alleged there was a political conspiracy to destabilise the Nitish Kuamr government.
Bihar's Director of midday meal programme R Lakshamanan said inquiries into the Saran tragedy showed that standing orders like quality check of food and its maintenance by teachers and cooks were not observed at the school. As the tragedy created a scare, he admitted that in many schools children are refusing to take food packets provided to them under the programme. The midday meal scheme, a flagship programme of the central government, covers 70,000 schools of Bihar providing food to 1.25 crore children.