, PATNA, Jul 17 – Twenty children have died after eating a free lunch feared to contain poisonous chemicals at a school in eastern India, officials said on Wednesday, as angry protests erupted over the tragedy.
Thirty more children remain ill in hospital after consuming lunch cooked at a village primary school in the impoverished state of Bihar, state education minister PK Shahi said.
“It is sad but true that 20 children died after eating their midday meal, which appears to be poisonous,” Shahi said.
The 20 children, all aged under 10, were buried near the school on Wednesday morning as angry residents armed with poles and sticks took to the streets in the city of Chhapra.
The mob smashed windows of school buses and other vehicles in Chhapra, the main city of Saran district where the school is located.
“Hundreds of angry people staged a protest in Saran since late Tuesday night, demanding stern action against government officials responsible for this shocking incident,” said district government official SK Mall.
A preliminary investigation has shown the meal of lentils and rice served to the children on Tuesday may have contained traces of phosphate from insecticide, said local government official Amarjeet Sinha.
The cause of death could be organophosphorous poisoning due to insecticide in the vegetables, he told AFP, adding that doctors are treating victims with atropine.
A more detailed investigation is under way into the tragedy at the state-run school in the village of Masrakh, the official said.
Media reports quoted villagers as saying the use of contaminated, foul-smelling mustard oil for cooking at the school could also have caused the deaths.