A large number of children have been refusing to eat free mid-day meals in schools across the eastern Indian state of Bihar, after 27 students, all aged below 12 years, died of food poisoning after consuming free school lunch Tuesday, an official said Thursday.
"School children are now refusing to eat free mid-day meals in state-run schools across Bihar. The state government has put out an advertisement in newspapers asking school principals and cooks to taste all food before serving them to students, following the mid-day meal horror at the Navsrijit Primary School in Masrakh village in the state's Saran district," he said, on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, as a mark of protest, some parents have buried the bodies of their children in front of the school where some 100 students ate the "contaminated" meals Tuesday, and at least 50 fell sick.
"The death toll may go up as dozens others, who fell sick, are still battling for their lives at various hospitals," the official said, adding that a manhunt has been launched to nab the principal of the school as well as her husband who supplied the groceries.
The children were served with rice, dal (cooked pulses) and vegetable as part of India's mid-day meal scheme which provides free food to school children to try to boost attendance.
State Education Minister Prashant Kumar Shahi said that traces of organic phosphorous have been found in the food served to the kids. "It is a criminal case of poisoning," he told the media in state capital Patna Wednesday evening.
Bihar's Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has ordered a high-level probe into the incident and announced a compensation of 200,000 Indian rupees (4,000 U.S. dollars) each to the families of the dead children.
India's mid-day meal scheme is said to be the world's largest school feeding programme aimed at 120 million children across 1.2 million schools.