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Headmistress held for meal trouble

Police have arrested the headmistress and six kitchen hands of a Howrah school where 15 students fell ill allegedly after mixing detergent powder, mistaking it for salt, with their mid-day meal on Wednesday.

The 15 students of Baluhati Girls’ High School in Domjur were admitted to a local primary health centre, from where they were released on Thursday. An official of the health centre said the children were stable.

“We have arrested headmistress Sharmi Das and six other women who were responsible for cooking mid-day meals at the school,” said B.L. Mina, the superintendent of police, Howrah (rural).

Other than the headmistress, the arrested women are Kakali Mandal, 49, Chaina Sen, 45, Anjana Mandal, 38, Tapasi Maity, 31, Sabita Bag, 35, and Sadhana Halder, 49. They are members of a local self-help group assigned the task of cooking mid-day meals and serving them to the students of Baluhati Girls’ High School.

The seven — remanded in 14 days’ judicial custody — have been charged with attempt to commit culpable homicide, administering stupefying drug with intent to cause hurt, doing or causing grievous hurt by any act which endangers human life, and dealing with poisonous substance so as to endanger human life.

The police said the 15 students wanted to add salt to the vegetables served with their meal. They ran into the school’s kitchen where they picked up a box containing a white substance, which they thought was salt.

“The box apparently contained detergent powder. The students mixed the powder with rice and vegetables. After taking a few mouthfuls, the students started vomiting and complaining of abdominal pain,” said an officer.

Headmistress Das tried to blame the students for the incident. Education department officials, however, said it was the school authorities’ duty to ensure students did not enter the kitchen.

In July 2013, more than 20 children died in Bihar’s Saran district after eating contaminated mid-day meal. The food was cooked with oil kept in containers that stored pesticides.