On Friday, Santana Konai, 23, an expectant mother, had queued up, as usual, at the ICDS (Integrated Child Development Scheme) Centre in Banior village in Birbhum district, 320km from Kolkata, for her daily quota of government supplied “health food” (khichri, a rice and dal dish).
Imagine her shock when she found a dead banded krait, a small but very poisonous snake, on her plate.
Santana was among the more than 100 would-be-mothers and children below six who had queued up for food. ICDS is the only centrally-sponsored scheme to address the health and nutrition needs of pregnant mothers and children below six from economically challenged backgrounds.
By the end of the day, at least 93 people who had eaten the food were in hospital with symptoms of food poisoning.
“I was eating my food, when I found a boiled snake in it. It was more than six inches long,” Santana said.
“Khichri sometimes comes with boiled potatoes and vegetables. But who would expect snakes?” said Bimala Bagdi, another woman.
A group of villagers then rushed to the local panchayat office with Sanatana’s unfinished lunch.
Maya Konai, a woman, who cooks ICDS food, said: “I didn’t know how the snake got into the food. I didn’t see anything.”
Dr Himadri Halder, superintendent at the Rampurhat Sub-Divisional Hospital, where many of the patients were admitted: “Some of them were released after treatment in the afternoon; the rest are still under observation.”
Another doctor told HT that though banded kraits are poisonous, the fact that it had been cooked and boiled at high heat probably saved the women and children from serious damage.
Sub-Divisional Officer Amitav Sengupta has sought an immediate report on the matter. No person from ICDS was available for comment.
State education minister Partha Dey on Saturday sought a report on the incident. However, the local panchayat samiti has demanded immediate punishment of the people responsible for this lapse.