Bihar: Report blames school principal, source of oil is key

PrincipalSchool children eat their free mid-day meal, distributed by a government-run primary school, at Brahimpur village in Chapra district in Bihar July 19, 2013.

On Friday, as a report by the Saran DC and DIG indicted Gandaman school principal Meena Devi for "criminal negligence" leading to the death of 22 children after eating a poisonous midday meal, the focus remained on the source of the oil in which the meal was cooked.

School cook Manju Devi, who ate the soyabean curry that appears to have contained pesticide, complained about the "blackish colour" and "odd smell" of the oil. Manju, who is now recovering in hospital in Patna, has said she had been snubbed by the principal, who allegedly told her that "students cannot expect to get tasty food every day".

Principal Meena Devi remains on the run, and a criminal case has been registered against her. Villagers said she would get oil, spices, pulses and vegetables for midday meals mostly from Masrakh town, 8 km away.

The principal spent between Rs 8,000 and Rs 10,000 every month for the midday meals for the 150 children in the school. The actual buying of the provisions, the villagers said, would be done by the principal's husband, Arjun Yadav, who reportedly chose the shop that gave him the cheapest rates.

Though the shop from which the alleged killer oil was purchased could not be identified, parents of the victims do not believe the oil itself was to be blamed. "The entire village purchases loose oil from Masrakh and Dharmasati markets. There have been no complaints of contamination," Ravi Rai, a villager, said.

Police Friday seized a container with "oil-like" liquid at the bottom from the principal's home. DGP Abhayanand said, "We have sent the container for forensic examination. No wrapper or box of any pesticide has so far been found."

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