The principal of the Bihar primary school where 23 children died last week after eating a free mid-day meal contaminated with pesticide has surrendered and is now in police custody.
Meena Kumari had been missing since the incident took place in the village in Chhapra on July 16. She has been charged in a police FIR with murder and criminal conspiracy. Investigators say they expect crucial answers from her interrogation.
The state's education minister PK Shahi had alleged last week that grocery and other supplies for the mid-day meal were procured from a store run by Meena Kumari's husband. He had also alleged that the husband was affiliated to an opposition party, alleging that the meal was deliberately poisoned on behalf of those looking to destablise the Janata Dal (United) government headed by Nitish Kumar.
On July 16, about 50 children, most of them less than 10 years of age, complained of sickness after eating lunch at school. The principal and her husband disappeared soon after. By that evening, 16 of the children had died and many others were in hospital, some in critical condition. The grieving village buried its children near the school amid protests and demands that Meena Devi be arrested.
A forensic report has revealed the presence of pesticide in the food that the children ate. The free mid-day meal scheme is designed to check malnutrition and draw poor children to school.
Nitish Kumar, whose government has faced lacerating criticism, today issued his first public comments on the tragedy, nine days after it happened. "I have a lot of regret and sorrow over what happened," he said, adding, "We tried to do whatever we could to help the children by rushing them to hospital, assigning doctors to them," the chief minister said.
Mr Kumar has been slammed by the opposition both for his ministers' conspiracy theory and or not visiting the Chhapra village, which is about 90 km away from state capital Patna.