A man holds his sick child who consumed spurious meals at a school on Tuesday is brought to a hospital for treatment in the eastern Indian city of Patna July 17, 2013. At least 20 children died and dozens were taken to hospital with apparent food poisoning after eating a meal provided for free at their school in the district of Chapra in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, the education minister said on Wednesday, sparking violent protests. REUTERS/Stringer
The bodies of at least 22 children killed by poisoned school meals have been buried by angry villagers in the Indian state of Bihar.
The children, who died after consuming contaminated food served by their school under the Indian government's Mid-Day Meal scheme, have been buried just yards from the school where they died.
Four of the victims were buried right in front of their classroom, in what villagers claim is a protest against the government.
"We have buried the bodies in front of the school so that people continue to remember this tragic event for generations," an angry parent told the Hindustan Times.
"As soon as they had eaten the meal, they felt uncomfortable and after some time started vomiting. With no facility to take care of them, they were somehow carried to the local primary health centre, which had nothing to offer by way of treatment of food poisoning cases," Baliram Singh, a villager, explained.
Although authorities say 22 children have died, local media suggest the death toll could be as high as 27. Although reports of the death toll differ, it has been confirmed that all victims were aged between four and 10.
Meanwhile, other victims are being treated at a medical college in the city of Patna, the state capital, which is 120km away from the village.
The Government has yet to reveal the cause of the tragedy, but it is believed the rice and soybean served for the meal contained traces of Organic Phosphorous (OP). According to The Times of India (TOI), police have been unable to approach the school or the village itself because all roads and access points have been blocked by grieving and protesting villagers.
The TOI report also quotes the state's education minister, Prashant Kumar Shahi, as accusing the school's principal, Meena Devi, and her husband, a storekeeper, of criminal poisoning.
It appears there may have been corrupt practices involved in the sourcing of food materials and vegetables, with the focus now on the oil used for cooking. The Hindustan Times report claims forensic experts have collected samples for investigation and testing.
Another report in the Hindustan Times listed the school's cook as among those who have died in this incident. It is believed the cook brought the poor quality of ingredients to Meena Devi's attention but was forced to use them anyway.
The same report also says children reported finding lizards' tails in their food. And after police broke into Meena Devi's home, which doubles as the storehouse for vegetables and other ingredients, they say they found pesticides and insecticides lying in close proximity to the foodstuffs.
Meena Devi and two school teachers are missing and the villagers have filed charges against all three.
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