18 Jul 2013

School meal deaths spark violent protests

10:31 pm on 18 July 2013

Violent protests have taken place in the Indian state of Bihar where 22 children died and dozens more fell sick after eating a tainted free school meal.

Four police vehicles were set on fire in Dharmasati Gandaman in the state of Bihar during the protests by parents and hundreds of villagers.

And despite the poverty in the state, thousands of children are now refusing free meals.

The BBC said local people armed with poles and sticks had blocked streets and locked railway gates, halting the movement of trains, while in Chhapra, a crowd set fire to a bus and damaged private property.

A doctor who treated the children says a chemical used in pesticides is likely to have been the cause of the contamination.

The Mid-Day Meal Scheme, introduced to combat hunger and boost school attendance, provides free food, but often suffers poor hygiene.

It was reaches 120 million children in 1.2 million schools across the country, according to the government.

Twenty-eight sick primary school children were taken to hospitals in the nearby town of Chhapra and the state capital, Patna, after consuming the meal of rice, soybeans and potatoes on Tuesday.

The school's cook told a government official she thought a new type of cooking oil was the cause of the poisoning.

A total of 47 students of the primary school fell sick after eating the free lunch.

A doctor at the Chhapra district hospital, KM Dubey, said children treated there had symptoms of organo-phosphorus poisoning.