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Indian Police Still Searching For Principal In Poisoning Case

Indian school children hold candles as they pay tribute to school children who died from food poisoning in Saran district of Bihar state.
Narinder Nanu
AFP/Getty Images
Indian school children hold candles as they pay tribute to school children who died from food poisoning in Saran district of Bihar state.

By Thursday afternoon, the number of children poisoned by their school lunch at a rural school in Bihar, India had risen to 23.

As we reported, doctors suspect the food the children were given was laced with a toxic insecticide.

Today, we get word that the principal at the school, who was tasked with overseeing the school meals program, has absconded and police were searching for her.

CNN reports:

"Bihar state Education Minister P.K. Shahi said the children were poisoned by an insecticide that was in the food.

"Shahi said he heard reports that the school's cook had questioned the quality of the oil she was supposed to use, but was overruled by the school's headmistress.

"'The information which has come to me indeed suggests that the headmistress was told by the cook that medium of cooking was not proper, and she suspected the quality of the oil,' Shahi said. 'But the headmistress rebuked her, and chastised the children, and forced them to continue the meal.'

"It's unclear how the children were 'forced' to continue eating."

The Times of India reports that authorities have opened an investigation.

The Hindu reports that beyond the obvious problem of controlling the quality of foods at schools, the families of the victims complained about improper medical facilities. The paper reports:

"Little Kajal convulsed twice and fell silent. With an aching stomach, she made the long journey from the local primary health care centre to the government hospital in Chapra, Saran district. Her brother Rajesh Sah who rushed her for treatment saw his sister die before his eyes. He then informed the doctor about it.

"'At the Chapra Sadar hospital, the doctor said there was no needle and not enough oxygen for everyone. I saw my sister convulse twice. She did not move later. I thought she was dead and called the doctor. He asked me for my mobile phone and using its light, he checked her eyes and declared her dead. In Chapra, the facilities were even worse than the PHC,' Mr. Rajesh told The Hindu."

IBN has two other important headlines on the case: Children of the state, today, refused to eat their lunch and the Ministry of Human Resource Development says it warned the Bihar government about the quality of their meals back in April.

IBN reports:

"The reports claimed that the food was cooked and kept in the open and de-worming tablets were not given to students at various schools in Bihar. According to the minutes of the HRD Ministry meeting accessed by CNN-IBN, senior Bihar government officials attended the meeting.

"'We had alerted the Bihar government quite a few months back about shortcomings in its food storage. We had expected that the Bihar government would have acted on the recommendations,' HRD Minister Pallam Raju said while admitting that there has been a failure on the part of the Nitish Kumar government in ensuring hygienic mid day meals for students across the state."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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