Chhapra: As the death toll in the mid day meal tragedy in Chhapra district of Bihar rose to 22, a family is praying hard for its eight children who are still in hospital struggling for their lives. The family has already lost one of its child and is hoping that the other eight survive the poisonous meal.
The tragedy took place at the government primary school in Dahrmasati Gandawan village at Mashrakh block, about 25 km from Chhapra and 60 km from state capital Patna on Tuesday. Out of a total of 51 people who consumed the food, 27 are still in hospital, battling for life. Among the dead are also the cook of the mid day meal project Panno Devi and her two children. Three children of another cook Manju Devi are under treatment at the hospital along with her.
The principal of the school, Meena Kumari, has been suspended and the state government has ordered an inquiry into the tragedy.
Massive protests erupted in Chhapra on Wednesday with locals and political party workers vandalising public property and blocking roads.
"Despite our repeated demands the hospital is not being helpful. The bodies of the children seem to be missing," one of the protesters alleged. "The public became angry and started protesting after seeing the children's bodies," another protester added.
The central government also took a note of the incident and said the forensic report is expected on Wednesday. "It looks like a case of contaminated food. We're hoping to get the forensic results by today to be able to ascertain the reason why the food got contaminated," HRD Minister Pallam Raju said.
"This is an example where we should exercise more caution in dealing with mid day meals. We're hoping others will pick up from this sad example," he added. The HRD Ministry has asked for a report of the incident from the Bihar government while the Union School Education Secretary has spoken to Bihar Chief Secretary on the issue.
Meanwhile, political blamegame has begun over the tragedy. The Opposition in the state has held the Nitish Kumar government responsible for the tragedy and has called a bandh in Chhapra. "There is no responsible governance in Bihar. The BJP and JD(U) just keep fighting with each other. They have forgotten the people of Bihar," Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad said.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with which the JD(U) recently broke its ties, also hit out at Nitish Kumar. "The government should have evacuated the children to Patna and made arrangements quickly. The government failed to take care of the situation. The CM should rush to Chhapra and meet the families of the children to see if they need anything," BJP leader Rajiv Pratap Rudy said. The BJP and RJD have called for a bandh in Chhapra on Wednesday while the LJP called for Bihar bandh.
The JD(U) chief has assured action against those responsible for the tragedy. "Strict against will be taken against those who were responsible for food poisoning. The government will do all in its capacity. We are also investigating whether there was something wrong in the food that was supplied," JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav said.
Speaking to CNN-IBN, Bihar Education Minister PK Sahi said the incident was not a case of food poisoning. He claimed the food was poisoned and that a probe into the tragedy will find out soon if the poisoning was deliberate or accidental.