Over 100 school children in Bihar hospitalised after eating ‘sour’ midday meal; 3rd incident in week

The incident occurred days after a dead snake and a dead lizard were found in midday meals served to children in Araria and Supaul districts  

By Mohd Imran Khan
Published: Thursday 01 June 2023
Photo: Vikas Choudhary / CSE

More than a 100 children in Bihar’s Bagha district were hospitalised June 1, 2023 as they fell sick after consuming “sour” midday meals served in government schools, according to officials. 

The incident occurred days after a dead snake and dead lizard were found in midday meals served to children in Araria and Supaul districts. 

Amid heatwave-like conditions, such incidents have become frequent because of negligence on the part of concerned officials, alleged residents. 

Failure to monitor cooking of these school meals and checking them before serving to children has resulted in three such incidents within six days and 225 children hospitalised.

In the latest incident, the children of Barwal complained of uneasiness followed by vomiting and headache after eating the meals in school. “My 11-year-old daughter informed me that when the meal was served to them, they complained of a foul smell but this complaint was ignored by the school staff,” a resident said.

School headmaster Sudhir Mishra admitted that some children who consumed the meal first started vomiting and some complained of uneasiness, while some fell unconscious.

“We stopped the meal immediately because the children alerted that the cooked vegetable dish served to them had a strong foul smell. We also informed the police and concerned officials of the block administration,” he said. 

Police station officer Nitesh Kumar said soon after getting the information, the local government hospital was directed to send ambulances to the school. “All the sick children were brought to the hospital in an ambulance and admitted for treatment.”

The hospital’s doctors who treated sick children said it appears to be a case of food poisoning. Children undergoing treatment revealed that the midday meal served to them was sour, according to doctors. All the children are now safe, the doctors said.

Several parents staged protests at the school. They said they strongly suspected something bad in the meal served to their children. “Midday meals are not cooked properly, there is no concern for cleanliness, hygiene or safety. Rotten food is mixed in the meals and served to children that risk their health and many fall sick. It is common here,” said Rakesh Paswan, whose son is one of the children who fell sick. 

This is the fifth such incident reported in state in the last one month and third within a week.

Additional chief secretary of the education department, Deepak Kumar Singh directed all the district education officers to monitor midday meals and ensure that the food is cooked in clean kitchens and served to children only after testing.

Singh warned of stern action if such a complaint or incident is reported again from anywhere. 

More than 25 children of a middle school at Thoothi Panchayat in Supaul district fell ill on May 29 after consuming food in which a dead lizard was found. Children fell sick with vomiting, uneasiness and weakness and were admitted to local government-run hospitals.

Similarly, more than 100 children had fallen ill on May 27 in Araria after consuming midday meals in which a dead snake was found. All children were admitted at a government hospital and discharged hours after treatment.

“But such incidents create panic and fear among children and their parents. Midday meals are supposed to provide nutrition to children. But negligence and apathy have resulted in meals being served with dead snakes, dead lizards and rotten food,” said Ghalib Khan, an education activist, who is a retired government officer.

A senior official of the education department said in several schools, different non-profits have been supplying cooked mid-day meals and in many schools the meals are prepared locally under the supervision of the school committee. “But the overall quality of the midday meals is poor. No one takes notice of it because mostly children from poor backgrounds are beneficiaries of it,” he said.

On July 16, 2013, about 23 students died after eating poisonous meals in a primary school at Dharmasati Gandaman village in Saran district.

A forensic report confirmed the presence of toxic insecticide strains in the cooking oil used for making food at the school.

The midday meal scheme is running in around 70,000 schools across Bihar, and an average of 10 million children avail meals cooked under the scheme daily.

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