PATNA: Twenty-one children have died after eating a free lunch feared to contain poisonous chemicals at a school in eastern India, officials said on Wednesday, sparking angry protests as mobs ran riot.
Another 30 children remained ill in hospital after consuming the meal of lentils, vegetables and rice cooked at a village primary school in the dirt-poor state of Bihar on Tuesday.
“The death toll has risen to 21,” local government official Amarjeet Sinha told reporters, as suspicion focused on the possible presence of insecticide in the food.
There were emotional scenes as children, their limbs dangling and heads lolling to one side, were brought to a hospital in the Bihar city of Chhapra.
Other children, lying listless on stretchers, were placed on intravenous drips amid chaotic scenes at the hospital. Outside, inconsolable relatives wept.
“My children had gone to school to study. They came back home crying, and said it hurts,” one distraught father told the NDTV network.
“I took them into my arms, but they kept crying, saying their stomach hurt very badly.”
Bihar education minister P.K. Shahi said the midday meal “appears to be poisonous”.
The children, all aged under 10, were buried near the school in the village of Masrakh on Wednesday morning as angry residents armed with poles and sticks took to the streets of Chhapra.
The mob smashed windows of police buses and other vehicles and turned over a police booth 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 S.K. Mall.
A preliminary investigation has shown the meal may have contained traces of phosphate from insecticide in the vegetables, Sinha from the local government said.
He said doctors were treating victims with atropine, which is effective against organophosphate poisoning.