The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Panic illness after free meal

Chennai, Sept. 5: The illness of about half-a-dozen students led to the affliction of a thousand others in a Pondicherry school on Teacher’s Day.

All the students had to be rushed to the nearest government hospital for check-up after having their share of the Rajiv Gandhi Breakfast Scheme — three slices of bread and 150 ml of milk.

The breakfast programme was recently launched for children in government-run “middle schools” (up to Class VIII).

About six children of the Kamarajar Middle School in the Muthaiyalpet area complained of nausea and stomach ache after having the breakfast. But seeing them fall ill, all the children in the school came up with similar complaints, which authorities later said was a panic syndrome.

The education minister of the Union Territory, Lakshmi Narayanan, told The Telegraph it was “fear psychosis”.

Almost immediately after the “affected” children were admitted to the Government General Hospital, the entire school landed there with concerned parents shepherding wards.

All the students were examined and sent home, the minister said. “Nothing really happened to them, it was only a panic reaction. Vested interests fanned rumours after some children were taken ill initially,” Narayanan said.

Even the “genuinely”-affected children were discharged later in the day. The only casualty was the Teachers’ Day celebration that was scheduled for the second half.

The milk for the breakfast scheme is supplied by a 50-year-old co-operative, Ponlait, which caters to entire Pondicherry, Narayanan said. The bread comes from a government bakery, Modern Bread.

“We have ensured that quality milk and bread are given to the children under this programme and they are all certified,” the minister claimed.

The samples of the milk and bread that “really” caused nausea and stomach pain this morning have been sent for testing.

The 15-day-old “nutrition scheme for the middle school children has been “suspended”. Chief minister Rangaswamy has ordered an inquiry by the collector into the incident.

“Since the scheme turned out to be very popular from Day I, our political opponents want to put all sorts of hurdles before the Congress government’s programme,” said Narayanan.

The government is ready to modify the ingredients of the food provided to the children every morning if they are found to be deficient, the health minister added.

“There is nothing to panic.”

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