Bihar's mid-day meal disaster: 22 children dead, Nitish Kumar's party alleges conspiracy

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Bihar's mid-day meal disaster: 22 children dead, Nitish Kumar's party alleges conspiracy
Chhapra, Bihar:  Amid angry protests, the village of Masrakh, 60 kms from Patna, buried some of its youngest children on Tuesday near the school where 24 hours ago, a free mid-day meal was served to them  allegedly contaminated with pesticides.

22 children have been killed. The state government alleges a conspiracy. (Watch)

In a separate alarming incident, 50 children in Madhubani were rushed to hospital after free lunch at their school left them sick. None are seriously ill, said officials.

In Chhapra, the location of the main tragedy, Tuesday's lunch was had traces of organic phosphorous or insecticides, according to  PK Shahi, the state's Education Minister.

He also said that groceries for the school were bought from a store owned by the husband of the headmistress, who is missing. This man, he alleged, has political affiliations.

Though the minister did not name a party, sources say the allusion is to the opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal or RJD whose chief Lalu Yadav represents this constituency in Parliament. "An inquiry will determine if the poisoning was inadvertent or deliberate," the minister said, alleging a conspiracy to undermine the ruling Janata Dal United. (Watch: In food poisoning, Nitish's party sees conspiracy)

The relentless politicisation of the tragedy surged as parents fought to contain their anger.  Armed with sticks, a mob in Chhapra smashed windows of police buses and other vehicles and turned over a police booth.

"My children had gone to school to study. They came back home crying, and said it hurts," one distraught father told NDTV. "I took them into my arms, but they kept crying, saying their stomach hurt very badly."

The BJP, which was recently dumped by the Janata Dal United from a 17-year partnership, agreed with locals who alleged delays and inadequate assistance by the administration. (Read: Who said what)

"They were shifted in a hospital which did not have a suction machine or facilities for blood transfusion. They were using syringes to pull out froth from their mouth and nose," said BJP leader and Rajya Sabha MP from Bihar Rajiv Pratap Rudy.


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