At least 22 children died and more than two dozen are undergoing medical intervention after eating a free school lunch that was tainted with insecticide, said officials Wednesday.

The tragedy took place at an elementary school in Dahrmasati Gandawan village at Mashrakh block, about 25 km from Chhapra in the state of Bihar.

The children, between the ages of four to 12, complained of nausea, abdominal pain and dizziness after a meal of rice, lentils, soybeans and potatoes served at the school under the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, the world’s largest school nutrition program involving 120 million children.

The sick were immediately rushed to a local hospital and later to Patna for treatment. As per reports, 16 children died in Chhapra itself, four others were declared dead on arrival at Patna Medical College Hospital (PMCH) and another two met their tragic end at the hospital this morning. In addition, 25 children and the school cook are being treated in hospital and three are stated to be critical.

Food contaminated with pesticides
Medics treating the kids said they suspected the food had been contaminated with organophosphorus, commonly used in farm pesticides.

KM Dubey, who is doctor at the Chhapra district hospital revealed, “When the children were clinically examined, we saw that there was severe congestion in the chest, and their pupils were dilated. These are symptoms of organo-phosphorus poisoning.

“Organo-phosphorus is a compound also used as a pesticide for crops. It is very dangerous. Even a small quantity of it would prove fatal for small children. Looking at the critical condition in which they were brought to the hospital, it seems like there were large quantities of poison in the food that they consumed.”

It is still ambiguous how chemicals ended up in the food at the school. Some believe the grain was not washed before it was delivered at the school. However, the locals feel the dish of soybeans and potatoes was contaminated as the children who had eaten the rice and lentils were fine. Meanwhile the cooked food and the kitchen utensils have been taken for investigation.

Abhijit Sinha, the state official stated, “Whether it was a case of negligence or was intentional, we will only know once the inquiry has been conducted.”

Angry street protests
As an aftermath of the tragic incident, enraged parents and locals took to the streets armed with sticks and stones smashing vehicles and setting buildings ablaze.

Meanwhile, the principal of the school, her husband the grocery store owner and other family members are absconding. An inquiry has been initiated to unearth the cause of the poisoning and 200,000 rupees compensation has been offered to the families of the victims.

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