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2 kids of midday meal cook among dead, toll rises to 22

Chapra/Patna, Jul 17 (PTI): The toll due to consumption of spurious midday meal at a government primary school in Bihar's Saran district rose to 22 on Wednesday.

While 16 children, aged below 10 years and studying in Class I to V, had died in Chhapra itself, four others were declared dead on arrival at Patna Medical College Hospital (PMCH) late last night. Two died at the hospital this morning, official and PMCH sources said.

Among the dead were two children of a woman cook of the midday meal project Panno Devi. Three children of another woman cook Manju Devi are under treatment at PMCH along with her.

Twenty five others are under medical supervision in PMCH, Amarkant Jha Azad, Superintendent of PMCH, said.

The Superintendent said the ailing children were admitted to ICU of paediatric department and senior doctors were attending to them round-the-clock.

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 on Tuesday.

One girl Kanti Kumari, a student of class IV who is admitted to the paediatric ward of PMCH, recalled that when students complained that the food tasted bad, the school head mistress Meena Devi rebuked them and asked to finish the meal.

”As we felt pain in the stomach, the headmistress asked us to go home. I fell unconscious on the way,” she said.

The woman cook Manju Devi, who is also being treated at PMCH, said the ingredients for cooking the meal were provided to her by the husband of the school's headmistress.

Manju Devi's three children, including two sons and a daughter, are with her in the PMCH.

Amarjit Singh, additional secretary in Union Human Resource Development ministry, who has come to Patna in wake of the midday meal tragedy, visited PMCH on Wednesday along with state Principal Secretary (Health) Vyasji and sought details from doctors about the health of the victims.

Rashtriya Janata Dal President Lalu Prasad also visited PMCH to meet the children. Describing the incident as “tragic”, Lalu Prasad blamed Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for the deaths.

The RJD chief told reporters at the hospital that despite regular complaints about midday meal scheme in different parts of the state, the Nitish Kumar government initiated no action. ”Nitish Kumar is busy saving his chair and fighting with its erstwhile NDA partner BJP and has left masses on mercy of god,” Lalu Prasad said.