In a shocking revelation, a forensic report on Saturday confirmed the presence of pesticide in the cooking oil used to prepare the mid-day meal, which claimed the lives of 23 children in a school in Chhapra, Bihar.
The report from the Forensic Science Laboratory revealed that the cooking oil contained monocrotophos, a pesticide used for agricultural purposes. But it is highly hazardous to humans and animals.
The report also stated that the poisonous content in the meals was five times more than the levels found in insecticides. "It was observed that the peak area of the poisonous substance in the oil was more than five times in comparison to the commercial preparation used as a control. It is a matter of investigation that how it came into the food," Ravinder Kumar, Additional Director General (ADG) of Police, Patna, told NDTV.
On the fateful day of 16 July, more than 40 children fell sick after eating their mid-day meal at the one-room Dharmsati Primary School at Chhapra. As many as 23 children, aged between four and 12, died after vomiting and suffering from severe stomach pains.
The incident triggered widespread protests in Bihar. Angry relatives buried the children's bodies in front of the school where the incident took place. The tragedy also sparked a national debate about the mid-day meal scheme, which is the world's largest school feeding programme that benefits more than 100 million children.
A high-level probe set up by the Bihar government blamed the principal of the government school, Meena Devi, for mismanaging the school affairs. The principal has reportedly purchased the cooking oil from a grocery shop run by her husband.
The Bihar police have filed an FIR against the principal, who along with her husband is at large.
Meanwhile, Human Resources Development Minister M M Pallam Raju on Saturday said it is not just the state's responsibility, but a collective task to make sure that the mid-day meal scheme is properly implemented across the country.
"It is the responsibility of the local committee, school management committee and the district administration to ensure things are going to function well," Raju said while addressing the media on Saturday.
The HRD ministry has set up a new committee to ensure proper implementation of the mid-day scheme.