Women sit next to their sick children who consumed the contaminated meal (Reuters)
Women sit next to their sick children who consumed the contaminated meal (Reuters)

The headmistress at an Indian school where 23 children died after eating food contaminated with pesticide has been arrested after going on the run.

Meena Devi had been missing for more than a week after the tragedy in the eastern state of Bihar, in which children ate a school meal tainted with a pesticide banned in many countries.

A warrant was put out for Devi's arrest after the children's death. Police believe she is key to determining how the pesticide ended up in the food.

Officers say the children, aged between four and 10, died after consuming a lunch of rice, soybean and pulses on 16 July.

A total of 47 children also became ill after eating the contaminated food. Thirty children are still seriously ill in hospital suffering from acute poisoning.

Devi has now been arrested nine days after fleeing when the children first started to fall ill.

Sujeet Kumar, police chief of Saran district, said: ""The principal surrendered... and we have arrested her for questioning.

"We need to talk to her first before framing charges."

A forensic report revealed the oil the food was cooked in contained the banned pesticide.

An unnamed government official said: "The poisonous substance was more than five times the commercial preparation available on the market."

Hundreds of people took to the streets in Bihar, demanding action against the government officials they believed were responsible for the tragedy.

However Bihar's ruling Janata Dal United party responded to the allegations of "criminal negligence" negligence by accusing opposition politicians of dirty tactics.

Spokesperson KC Tyagi said: "The way the opposition of Bihar is responding, I feel that it is a big conspiracy. They want to destabilise the Bihar Government."