HRD ministry blames it on negligence

The Centre on Thursday said the death of schoolchildren in the Chapra district of Bihar due to contaminated food in their midday meals was an apparent result of “negligence” and “non-implementation” of the guidelines. The government asserted that stringent action would be taken against those responsible for the “unfortunate” incident.

“The exact reason which led to the incident is yet to be ascertained, but it is apparent that there was some negligence. Guidelines were not followed. Strict action will be taken against those responsible for this tragic incident,” said Minister of State for Human Resource Development (HRD) Jitin Prasada.

Though the minister suggested that there was apparent negligence and non-implementation of the guidelines. “It is the responsibility of the state government, district administration, village chief and teacher of the school concerned to ensure that the guidelines set for the scheme are implemented. The persons responsible for the incident will be identified and action will be taken,” he said.

Citing some of the basic guidelines set for the implementation of the scheme, he said that the food prepared had to be tested by two-three adults, including at least one teacher of the school concerned, before it was served to the children. “Ingredients should be stored in proper containers, which should protect them from moisture, pests, etc,” said the minister.

The ministry, which rushed a senior official to Bihar to hold an on-the-spot inquiry into the incident on Wednesday evening, has also sought a report from the Bihar government. 

Expressing sorrow over the death of children, HRD Minister M M Pallam Raju said on Wednesday that states should take lessons from the incident and exercise caution while implementing the scheme. “It is an aberration that this has happened. Although it is an unfortunate incident, it's not a recurring thing,” he said.

He, however, added that a case has been registered by police and investigations are on. The minister’s statement came on a day when about 50 children of another government school were reportedly taken ill after they were served food under the midday meal scheme in the Madhubani district of Bihar.

Though the incident sparked a political row, Raju chose not to join it. He, however, said that the provision of kitchen-cum-store under the scheme was vital, but the Bihar government could only construct 44,159 out of the total 65,977 kitchen-cum-sheds sanctioned by his ministry for safe and hygiene cooking.

“It (construction of kitchen-cum-stores) is only 67 per cent. We hope it would be done quickly,” he said.

Meanwhile, the National Human Rights Commission has issued a notice to the Bihar government over the incident, asking the principal secretary of the state education department and the Chapra Superintendent of Poilce to submit a report in the matter within four weeks.

“They have also been directed to inform whether any legal action has been taken in the matter. The officers have been asked to inform the commission the compensation, if any, proposed to be granted to the next of kin of the deceased," said the rights body in a statement.

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