The morbid fear of having school meal haunts them even today - 20 days after 24 children, victims of poisoning, were admitted to the Patna Medical College Hospital (PMCH) here.
On Tuesday, having recovered fully, 22 were given a warm send-off by the hospital authorities while Kajal Kumari, 8, Mantu Kumar, 10, and cook Manju Devi were held back for further observation.
Such was the underlying trauma in these children that they swore never to either go back to the same school or eat school meal ever again.
"The government has already shut the two-room primary school in Gandaman of Saran district, 110 km north of Patna, and clubbed it with another institution while ensuring implementation of safety mechanisms for preparation of midday meals in schools," principal secretary, education, Amarjeet Sinha, who was present at the time of discharge of the children from the hospital, told HT.
Asked how the government would restore confidence in children to have midday meals in schools, Sinha said: "We had all safety mechanisms, but they were not being followed. School management committee comprising headmaster, panchayat representatives and parents, was always there for midday meal. The headmaster and parents were supposed to check meal before being served to students.
It's a matter of police investigation why on the given day the headmistress ate 'maad bhaat' (starch & rice) and not the meal prepared for children despite complaint by the cook. We will now ensure implementation of all safety parameters. We will also hold sensitisation programmee in districts on August 15."
The children were given a set of new attire, which they joyfully wore and made their way out of the hospital in five ambulances.
Education minister PK Shahi and principal secretary, health, Vyas Ji were also present.