UK & World News

  • 24 July 2013, 13:19

School Meal Deaths: Headteacher Surrenders

The headmistress of a school where 23 children died in a food poisoning outbreak has handed herself in to the police.

Meena Devi was taken into police custody in the eastern state of Bihar.

Police have been searching for the headmistress for nine days since children at her school began vomiting and suffering stomach cramps after eating a meal contaminated with a pesticide that is banned in many countries.

The principal surrendered ... and we have arrested her for questioning," Sujeet Kumar, police chief of Saran district, said.

"We need to talk to her first before framing charges."

Thirty children who became seriously ill after eating the free school lunch, provided as part of the world's largest free school feeding programme, on July 16 are still in hospital.

Police reportedly raided the headteacher's home - where the ingredients for the meal of lentil, potatoes and rice were being kept - earlier in the week.

Results of tests of blood samples taken from four children still in a critical condition indicated "acute poisoning".

A forensic report showed the oil that the food was cooked in contained the pesticide monocrotophos at very high levels.

An unnamed government official said: "The poisonous substance was more than five times the commercial preparation available on the market."

The World Health Organisation revealed it had asked India to ban the toxic substance as far back as 2009.

It also warned that pesticide containers were not being disposed of properly in India and were being used by the poor to store water and food.