Cooks recount horrors of Indian school lunch deaths

World

Cooks recount horrors of Indian school lunch deaths

Posted:

PATNA, India (AP) — Soon after they served the daily free lunch they had prepared for dozens of children at a rural Indian school, the two cooks realized something was very wrong. The students started fainting. Within hours, they began dying.

By Thursday afternoon, 23 children between the ages of 5 and 12 had died from eating food laced with insecticide and many others had fallen ill.

Authorities discovered a container of insecticide in the school's cooking area next to the vegetable cooking oil and mustard oil, but it wasn't yet known if that container was the source, according to Amarjeet Sinha, a top official in the state of Bihar, where the tragedy took place.

Some officials have said it appeared that the rice had somehow been tainted with insecticide and might not have been properly washed before it was cooked.

"It's not a case of food poisoning. It's a case of poison in food in a large quantity, going by the instant deaths," Sinha said.

More answers were expected Friday, when a forensic laboratory was to issue the results of its tests on the dead children, the food and the uncooked grain stored by the principal in her house, he said. Police were searching for the principal, who fled after the students started falling sick, Sinha said.

The cooks, Manju Devi and Pano Devi, told The Associated Press that the principal controlled the food for the free daily lunch provided by the government at the school. On Tuesday morning, she gave them rice, potatoes, soy and other ingredients needed to prepare the meal and then went about her business. As the children ate, they started fainting, the cooks said.

The two cooks were not spared either.

Manju Devi, 30, ate some of the food and fainted. Her three children, ages 5, 8 and 13, fell ill as well. All were in stable condition Thursday.

While Pano Devi, 35, didn't eat the tainted food, her three children did. Two of them died and the third, a 4-year-old daughter, was in the hospital.

"I will stop cooking at the school," she said. "I am so horrified that I wouldn't grieve more if my only surviving child died."

Sinha said one of the cooks told authorities that the cooking oil appeared different than usual, but the principal told her to use it anyway. Doctors believed the food contained an organophosphate used as an insecticide, he said.

The free midday meal was served to the children Tuesday in Gandamal village in Masrakh block, 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Patna, the Bihar state capital.

Some of the victims were buried Wednesday in front of the school building in protest.

Those who survived the poison were unlikely to suffer from any serious aftereffects from the tainted food, said Patna Medical College hospital superintendent Amarkant Jha Amar.

"There will be no remnant effects on them. The effects of poisoning will be washed after a certain period of time from the tissues," Amar said.

Amar said Thursday that the post-mortem reports on the children who died confirmed that insecticide was either in the food or cooking oil. He said authorities were waiting for lab results for more details on the chemicals.

India's midday meal plan is one of the world's biggest school nutrition programs. State governments have the freedom to decide on menus and timings of the meals, depending on local conditions and availability of food rations. It was first introduced in the 1960s in southern India, where it was seen as an incentive for poor parents to send their children to school.

Since then, the program has been replicated across the country, covering some 120 million schoolchildren. It's part of an effort to address concerns about malnutrition, which the government says nearly half of all Indian children suffer from.

Although there have been complaints about the quality of the food served and the lack of hygiene, the incident in Bihar appeared to be unprecedented for the massive food program.

But with the country focused on the safety of the program Thursday, reports emerged that others had fallen ill across India.

In the southern state of Tamil Nadu, at least 100 girls became sick, vomiting and fainting, after eating lunches made with contaminated eggs, the Press Trust of India reported.

In Maharashtra, dozens of students fell ill after drinking contaminated water, media reported.

In Bihar, the state director of the feeding program, R. Lakshamanan, told PTI that some students refused to eat the lunches Thursday in the wake of the tragedy.

The national government announced it would set up a second committee to review the functioning of the meal program in addition to one that already monitors the program.

  • Email Alert Sign Up

    Sign up here to receive breaking news stories from KSWT.com and morning updates to your email inbox.

    * denotes required fields


    Thank you for signing up! You will receive a confirmation email shortly.
Go to KSWT-TV's Facebook page
  • Most Popular StoriesMost Popular StoriesMore>>

  • 6 injured as car jumps curb near Stanford

    6 injured as car jumps curb near Stanford

    Police in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Palo Alto say six people were injured, one critically, when a car jumped a curb outside a cafe.More >>
    Police say a man in his 90s drove on to a busy sidewalk near Stanford University, hitting five pedestrians and leaving one of them with major injuries.More >>
  • Got Solar? Utility looking to place solar panels on a home near you

    Got Solar? Utility looking to place solar panels on a home near you

    Arizona's top utility company is looking to place solar panels on 3,000 homes; at no cost to the homeownerArizona Public Service announced that they plan on placing these panels on residents homes and in turn for the usage of their roofs the utility company will give them a $30 discount on their monthly bill for the next 20 years. If approved by regulators APS will spend anywhere from 50 to 70 million in project costs. This new initiative will help the utility giant meets it's mandatory alter...More >>
    Arizona's top utility company is looking to place solar panels on 3,000 homes; at no cost to the homeownerArizona Public Service announced that they plan on placing these panels on residents homes and in turn for the usage of their roofs the utility company will give them a $30 discount on their monthly bill for the next 20 years. If approved by regulators APS will spend anywhere from 50 to 70 million in project costs. This new initiative will help the utility giant meets it's mandatory alter...More >>
  • National

    Obama warns of delay in social sec. checks and veteran's benefits

    Obama warns of delay in social sec. checks and veteran's benefits

    Web Producer: Lucy Valencia, Assignment Desk Editor WASHINGTON (AP) -- Declaring "we are not a deadbeat nation," President Obama warned on Monday that Social Security checks and veterans' benefits willMore >>
    Declaring "we are not a deadbeat nation," President Obama warned on Monday that Social Security checks and veterans' benefits will be delayed if congressional Republicans fail to increase the government's borrowing authority in a looming showdown over the nation's debt and spending.More >>
  • Father time reared his head

    Father time reared his head

    As UCLA tallied the damage from rampant flooding triggered by the rupture of a 90-year-old city water line, Los Angeles city leaders on Wednesday were once again confronted with the consequences of deferred maintenance on the city's aging infrastructure. Officials have long known that hundreds of miles of city water lines have deteriorated and need replacement, with many past the century mark. But in recent years, L.A.'s elected leaders have been unwilling to hike water rates enough to fix th...More >>
    As UCLA tallied the damage from rampant flooding triggered by the rupture of a 90-year-old city water line, Los Angeles city leaders on Wednesday were once again confronted with the consequences of deferred maintenance on the city's aging infrastructure. Officials have long known that hundreds of miles of city water lines have deteriorated and need replacement, with many past the century mark. But in recent years, L.A.'s elected leaders have been unwilling to hike water rates enough to fix th...More >>
  • Yuma woman charged with hindering prosecution of murder suspect

    Yuma woman charged with hindering prosecution of murder suspect

    YUMA, AZ- Another woman is charged with hindering prosecution of a murder suspect in the death of a Yuma man. Regina Garcia went before Judge Gregory Stewart in Yuma Justice Court Thursday afternoon.More >>
    Another woman is charged with hindering prosecution of a murder suspect in the death of a Yuma man.More >>
  • 13 arrested in Phoenix area stolen property probe

    13 arrested in Phoenix area stolen property probe

    Authorities say 13 people have been arrested after search warrants were served in Gilbert and Chandler after a seven-month drug and stolen property investigation.More >>
    Authorities say 13 people have been arrested after search warrants were served in Gilbert and Chandler after a seven-month drug and stolen property investigation.More >>
  • Union: California prison staff told to fake checks

    Union: California prison staff told to fake checks

    A union says California prison employees were pressured into falsifying suicide watch records at the state's Stockton medical facility, endangering inmates and violating court-mandated standards.More >>
    A union says California prison employees were pressured into falsifying suicide watch records at the state's Stockton medical facility, endangering inmates and violating court-mandated standards.More >>
  • Yuma

    Judge ups grandmother's charges in shooting death of 3-year-old

    Judge ups grandmother's charges in shooting death of 3-year-old

    YUMA, AZ - Monday a Yuma judge has upped the charges against the grandmother - first charged with manslaughter in the shooting death of her 3-year-old grandson Darien Nez. 35-year old Rachel Spry nowMore >>
    Monday a Yuma judge has upped the charges against the grandmother - first charged with manslaughter in the shooting death of her 3-year-old grandson Darien Nez.More >>