At least 22 children died and many others were sick after eating a free school lunch that was tainted by a heavy dose of insecticide, officials in India said today.
It was not immediately clear how chemicals ended up in the food in a school in the eastern state of Bihar, although one official said the food may not have been properly washed before it was cooked.
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The children, between the ages of 8 and 11, fell ill yesterday soon after eating their school lunch in Masrakh, a village 50 miles north of the state capital of Patna.
School authorities immediately stopped serving the meal of rice, lentils, soya and potatoes as the children started vomiting.
The lunch, part of a popular country-wide campaign to give at least one hot meal to children from poor families, was cooked in the school kitchen.
The children were quickly rushed to a local hospital and later to Patna for treatment, state official Abhijit Sinha said.
In addition to the 22 children who died, another 25 children as well as the school cook have been taken to hospital, he said. Eight of them were in a serious condition.
Treatment: The meal was cooked in the school kitchen, but school authorities stopped serving it as children started vomiting
Authorities suspended an official in charge of the free meal scheme in the school and registered a case of criminal negligence against the school headmaster, who fled as soon as the children fell ill.
P.K. Sahi, the state education minister, said a preliminary investigation suggested the food had traces of an organophosphate used as an insecticide on rice and wheat crops.
It's believed the grain was not washed before it was served at the school, he said.
However, villagers said the problem appeared to be with a side dish of soya and potatoes, adding that children who had not eaten that dish were fine - although they had eaten the rice and lentils.