As Bihar awaited the much-anticipated forensic report, which will ascertain the exact cause of death of 23 school students in Chhapra, the district administration on Saturday started the formalities for attaching the property of Meena Devi, the headmistress of the Dharma Sati primary school at Gandaman village where poisonous mid-day meal triggered the tragedy a couple of days ago.
Bihar’s principal secretary (education) Amarjeet Sinha has indicated that the forensic science laboratory report identifying the poisonous substance in the mid-day meal is expected on Saturday.
However, it is not certain if, indeed, the report will be available on Saturday or be postponed till Monday.
The state government on Friday issued orders for attachment of property of headmistress Meena Devi even as it ordered the school to be moved from its present site and merged with the nearest middle school where infrastructure for mid-day meal was better.
It also declared that the role of senior deputy collector, district education officer (DEO) and block education extension officers (BEEO), charged with the responsibility to monitor the mid-day meal project, would be minutely looked into and accountability would be fixed.
Inquiry is being taken up also against a former BEEO, who was put under suspension four months ago.
The school has been virtually turned into burial ground with four bodies buried right in front to make the villagers’ anger symbolic after 23 deaths.
Sinha said if required, schools at other places can run in two shifts if there is not enough space in any school to accommodate two.
Bihar has over 8200 schools without buildings.
He appealed to school management committee members, made of mothers of studying children and elected representatives of panchayats, to taste the food being served to monitor quality, even as he issued an appeal to civil society groups to act as watchdogs.
Sinha said the Chhapra police were in hot pursuit of Meena Devi and her husband, the vendor who supplied mid-day meal rations to the primary school. They were named in the FIR.
The other teacher, Kalpana, who was absent on the day, had been issued a showcause notice.
The officials, however, said with viscera reports still not available, identification of the exact poisonous substance used in the food would take more time.
Meena Devi, as per the FIR filed, is the prime suspect in the unfortunate episode. She is recorded to have forced the female cook to use the oil despite the latter’s complaint that the oil had a pungent smell and had turned black after being placed over fire for cooking potato and soyabeans.
The cook lost two of her three kids and is herself hospitalised — being treated for severe shock and trauma besides poisoning - at the Patna medical college and hospital (PMCH).
Superintendent of police, Chhapra, Sujit Kumar said the report of the viscera examination was awaited before a chargesheet could be filed.
The police on Friday went to the principal’s house, which was found locked.