The N.Y. Times reports that 21 children died and more than two dozen were hospitalized Tuesday after being poisoned by an insecticide-laced lunch served at a primary school in the eastern state of Bihar.
The children complained that the food — rice, beans and potato curry — tasted odd and soon suffered severe vomiting and diarrhea, officials said. After the children’s complaints, the school’s cook tasted the meal and promptly fell ill as well, according to P. K. Shahi, minister of human resource development in Bihar.
School meal programs in India, like many government programs, are rife with fraud. Corruption has long been endemic in Bihar, one of India’s poorest states.
After seeing the children get sick, the school’s teachers and administrators fled the school, according to Dr. Shambhu Nath Singh, the deputy superintendent of the government hospital in Bihar’s Saran District. Parents brought the sickened children to the hospital. Seven were dead on arrival and seven died soon after getting to the hospital, Dr. Singh said.
The local police opened an investigation into the incident and have been searching for the school’s headmistress, but she has fled, Abhijit Sinha, the district’s chief civil servant, said by telephone.