Twenty-two children are dead, and over two dozen were hospitalized Tuesday, after eating lunch at a primary school in the region of Bihar, India.
A total of 47 school-children were taken ill after eating the free meal provided by the Mid-Day Meal Scheme on Tuesday. Seven died immediately, and seven others passed away soon after getting to the hospital.
The cause of the food poisoning are still under investigation, but an organophosphate— which is a toxic chemical often used in insecticides— was reportedly found in the kid's bodies during post-mortem inquiries.
According to the state education minister, "now the investigators have to find out whether organophosphorus was accidental or there was some deliberate mischief."
Apparently, the children noticed immediately that something was wrong with the food, complaining that the meal— which consisted of rice, beans and potato curry— tasted weird, after which the school cook had a taste and also instantly became sick. Appallingly, the rest of school’s teachers and administrators reportedly fled the school as soon as they saw the children were acutely unwell.
200,000 rupees ($3,370) has been offered in compensation to each family who's lost a child, but angry demonstrations have erupted in the region to protest the unnecessary deaths. At least four police cars have been set ablaze, and locals armed with sticks have halted trains by blocking off streets and railway gates.
The free Mid-Day Meal Scheme, which is the world's largest school feeding programme, feeds 120 million across the country. Programs like this one are mandatory in India, after a 2001 order by the country's Supreme Court, which hoped that free school meals would tackle malnutrition and boost attendance in schools. But the programs often suffer from poor hygiene, especially in some parts of rural India, where insecticides are recklessly utilized and people are often poisoned from their ingestion.