The political blame game begins
The deaths have triggered a war of words between the government of CM Nitish Kumar, which blamed the supplier of foods for the tragedy, and an aggressive opposition including the estranged ally BJP.
The BJP called Kumar ‘insensitive’. “Instead of showing promptness in evacuating the children to a better medical facility, the CM of Bihar has announced an ex-gratia amount of Rs 2 lakh for kin of children who died after having a mid-day meal. This shows his insensitivity and callous attitude,” said Rajiv Pratap Rudy, spokesperson for the BJP party.
He added, “Most of the children died as treatment was not up to the mark. Better medical facility and right treatment could have saved many children.”
Meanwhile, a case has been registered against the school’s headmistress Meena Devi, and other teachers.
A preliminary investigation has shown the meal may have contained traces of phosphate from insecticide in the vegetables. Amarjeet Singh, principal secretary in the education ministry said doctors were treating victims with atropine, which is effective against organophosphate poisoning.
But, in a bizarre defence, Bihar Education Minister PK Shahi said there could have been a conspiracy to poison the mid-day meal. Shahi said that the autopsies revealed that organo-phosphorous had been injected into the meal.“It is painful that children died after eating the meal.
But it can be a conspiracy,” he said. He alleged that the school principal’s husband, Arjun Rai, belonged to an opposition party. “All the food items used to be brought from his grocery shop. It is a matter of an inquiry how poison was used,” Shahi said.
1925 The year the mid-day meal was first introduced
72,000 Number of schools running the programme in Bihar
Rs 2,583 cr Amount allocated by the central government for the mid-day meal programme
120 mn Number of children who receive mid-day meal