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
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Experts believe that ISIS may be using a Spanish enclave to bring jihad to Europe.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
With an efficient subway, inexpensive taxis and a good public bus system, Hong Kong is normally an easy city to navigate ...
September 28, 2014 -- Updated 2332 GMT (0732 HKT)
CNN's Ivan Watson was in the middle of a pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong when things got out of hand.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The world's animal population has halved in 40 years as humans put unsustainable demands on Earth, a new report warns.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1249 GMT (2049 HKT)
Every day, refugees and migrants risk their lives as they seek a new life. Now, a new report puts a figure to the number of victims.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1442 GMT (2242 HKT)
Mainstream commentators must promote positive role models to Muslims feeling victimized, writes Ghaffar Hussain.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 0613 GMT (1413 HKT)
Two men familiar with inside knowledge of ISIS speak with CNN's Arwa Damon.
Explore CNN's interactive that explains ISIS' roots, what it controls, and where its support comes from.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 2010 GMT (0410 HKT)
In his first-ever interview as the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani defended his country against allegations of funding terrorism.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 1503 GMT (2303 HKT)
The North Korean leader hasn't been seen for weeks, leading to speculation that he is in poor health.
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0154 GMT (0954 HKT)
Haider al-Abadi hopes airstrikes don't lead to "of another terrorist element" instead of ISIS.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
The United States couldn't do it on its first try. Neither could the Soviets.
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 1529 GMT (2329 HKT)
CNN's Nima Elbagir reflects on a harrowing trip to Liberia where she covered the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Contrary to public opinion, rats can actually save lives -- Apopo's rats have actually saved thousands.
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 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