Bihar govt suspects conspiracy behind mid-day meal tragedy

Bihar govt suspects conspiracy behind mid-day meal tragedy

Under attack from the opposition over the death of 23 school children after consumption of mid-day meal at Saran, the Bihar government today said it suspected a conspiracy behind the tragedy.

"The deaths were not due to food poisoning but it's a clear case of mixing poison in food," state Education Minister P K Shahi told reporters here.

He said doctors attending the students at Chhapra sadar hospital have reported that the children had died due to the presence of poisonous organic phosphorous in the food.

"From where did this organic phosphorous come in the food given to students as part of the mid-day meal scheme?" Shahi asked and told the police to investigate the matter.

The minister hinted at the involvement of opposition RJD in the tragedy though he did not make any direct reference.

"Arjun Rai, the husband of the school headmistress, had supplied the food material for the midday meal. He is an active member of a party and cousin of local leader Dhruv Rai of Mashrakh, who is close to a prominent leader of a party (RJD)," he said.

Rai, Shahi said, owns the grocery shop from where the materials were taken by the school headmistress Meena Devi for the midday meal scheme.

Besides, the headmistress was posted at the school under pressure "from a particular party". Block education officer Pramod Kumar, who is under suspension now, had appointed her as headmistress in-charge of the school.

The minister said, "Some people seem to be in a hurry to capture power anyhow and in persuading this ambition they are indulging in inhuman acts like the present tragedy."

The couple is absconding and an FIR has been lodged in Mashrakh police station against Meena Devi. Shahi said a student had told the media that the headmistress had forced them to finish the meal when they expressed reluctance to eat it because of its pungent taste.

Besides, a cook had said she had complained to the headmistress about the oil given to her for cooking the meal but she told her it was fresh and asked her to use it.

The minister said the government has ordered suspension of the headmistress and the block development officer has been asked to initiate the process but it is taking time as the BDO is engaged in law and order duty in view of the Saran bandh called separately by opposition RJD, BJP and LJP to protest the incident.

Shahi, who had rushed to Chhapra yesterday on the instruction of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, said the response time taken by the government to provide succour to the victims was quick. Refuting lacunae in implementation of the central government's mid-day meal scheme, Shahi said the ruling JD(U) has always been concerned about improving the quality of food under the programme, implemented in 73,000 schools across the state.

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