Skip to main content

School meals tainted with poison kill 22 children in Indian village

By Aloke Devichand and Tim Hume, CNN
July 19, 2013 -- Updated 0252 GMT (1052 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • At least 22 dead, one critical after eating school meals containing a poison, official says
  • The poison is a sarin-related nerve gas used in agriculture
  • The children were from Dharamsati village in Bihar state, northeastern India
  • The deaths have triggered violent protests and calls for a general strike

(CNN) -- At least 22 schoolchildren died in northeastern India after eating free school lunches that contained a poison, a state official said.

More than 25 others were hospitalized in Bihar state, said Bihar Education Minister P.K. Shahi, after ingesting an insecticide that was in the food. One remains critical, the hospital said.

The poison was organophosphorus, a chemical that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says is commonly used in agriculture.

It is a nerve agent related to sarin gas, which is used in chemical warfare, the U.S. Health Department says.

A woman rests with her child at a ward housing the poisoned schoolchildren at the Patna Medical College and Hospital, in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, Wednesday, July 17. At least 22 schoolchildren died in northeastern India after eating free school lunches that contained an insecticide commonly used in agriculture. Officials are investigating whether the poisoning was accidental or deliberate. A woman rests with her child at a ward housing the poisoned schoolchildren at the Patna Medical College and Hospital, in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, Wednesday, July 17. At least 22 schoolchildren died in northeastern India after eating free school lunches that contained an insecticide commonly used in agriculture. Officials are investigating whether the poisoning was accidental or deliberate.
Deadly school lunch in India
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
>
>>
Deadly school lunch in India Deadly school lunch in India
Indian cook: Something wrong with oil
20 children die after eating school lunch

Exposure to a high dose can cause an irregular heartbeat, difficulty breathing, paralysis and seizures.

Shahi told CNN the school's cook had questioned the quality of the oil she was being asked to use but was overruled by the head teacher.

He said: "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. But the headmistress rebuked her, and chastised the children, and forced them to continue the meal."

CNN has not been able to contact the headmistress.

A program providing one free hot meal a day to school children has proved incredibly popular as part of India's wider effort to tackle malnutrition. Children aged 6 months to 14 years get take-home rations or are provided with hot cooked food.

The wider $22 billion-a-year welfare scheme aims to sell subsidized wheat and rice to 67% of its 1.2 billion people.

According to the Indian government's figures, nearly half of India's children suffer from malnutrition of some sort.

Shahi said: "Twenty million children are being served hot meals in about 73,000 elementary schools. We have been endeavoring to improve the quality ... However, the challenge is still there because the magnitude of this program is so huge that there are a number of challenges."

He added: "It is really very unfortunate. Even though I would unhesitatingly admit that there are some quality issues before us, but this is the first incident which has happened in the state. In the past we have received complaints regarding quality, but the incident of this nature has happened for the first time. It has really shocked us -- shocked the entire state."

Speaking on CNN's sister network CNN-IBN, district magistrate Abhijit Sinha said an inquiry into the deaths had been launched.

CNN-IBN reported that the children were between the ages of 5 and 12 and from Dahrmasati Gandawan, a village in Saran district, Bihar state. It said their deaths Tuesday triggered violent protests Wednesday in Chhapra, the headquarters of Saran district, and a call from politicians for a general strike.

Madhusudan Paswan, Saran's district education officer, told CNN that 31 of the affected children were sent from the local Sadar Hospital to Patna Medical College Hospital in the state capital Tuesday night.

CNN-IBN quoted Shahi as saying the deaths were a clear result of poisoning, and an investigation would determine whether the contamination was accidental or deliberate.

Since a landmark Supreme Court decision in 2001, all government schools in India have been required to provide free meals to students younger than 13.

In 2012: Poisoning sends 38 Mexican kindergarteners to hospital

CNN's Sumnima Udas contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 29, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
The missing AirAsia jet probably crashed into the sea, Indonesia's top rescue official said Monday, citing radar data from the plane's last contact.
December 29, 2014 -- Updated 0850 GMT (1650 HKT)
Here are four ways the two incidents appear to differ.
December 29, 2014 -- Updated 1232 GMT (2032 HKT)
Hundreds of passengers have endured a freezing night on a ferry, more than 24 hours after a fire broke out on the vessel in the Adriatic Sea.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0254 GMT (1054 HKT)
A decade on from devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Red Cross' Matthias Schmale says that the lessons learned have made us safer.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0024 GMT (0824 HKT)
As soon as word broke that "The Interview" will hit some theaters, celebrations erupted across social media -- including from the stars of the film.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1844 GMT (0244 HKT)
Did a rogue hacker -- or the U.S. government -- cut the cord for the regime's Internet?
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Monaco's newborn royals, Princess Gabriella and Crown Prince Jacques Honore Rainier, posed for their first official photos with their parents.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1706 GMT (0106 HKT)
Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the world wide web, gives a speech on April 18, 2012 in Lyon, central France, during the World Wide Web 2012 international conference on April 18, 2012 in Lyon.
What's next for the Internet? Acclaimed scientist and fatherof the World Wide Web Sir Tim Berners-Lee shares his insights.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0822 GMT (1622 HKT)
The United States and North Korea have long been locked in a bitter cycle of escalating and deescalating tensions. But the current cyber conflict may be especially hard to predict.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2100 GMT (0500 HKT)
A chilling video shows Boko Haram executing dozens of non-Muslims.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1134 GMT (1934 HKT)
New planes, new flight tests ... but will we get cheaper airfares?
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1701 GMT (0101 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT