Indian food poisoning school headteacher arrested, Police detain woman who went missing for over a week after pesticide-contaminated meal killed 23 children

Schoolchildren eat their free midday meal at a primary school in India

Indian schoolchildren eat their free midday meal at a primary school. Photograph: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

Indian police have arrested the headteacher of a school where 23 children died after eating a meal contaminated with a pesticide in one ofIndia‘s deadliest food poisoning outbreaks in years.

The woman, who had been missing for over a week, was detained while on her way to court to surrender herself, said Sujit Kumar, superintendent of police in Saran district, in the eastern state of Bihar.

The children fell ill within minutes of eating a meal of rice and soya-bean-and-potato curry in their one-room school on 16 July, vomiting and convulsing with stomach cramps. Some died on the floor of a hospital where they were sent for treatment within hours of consuming the food.

Forensic tests showed the meal was contaminated with monocrotophos, a lethal pesticide banned in many countries. Police have said the headmistress is the key to solving the mystery of how the pesticide ended up in the food.

Police have been searching for the woman since she fled the district. Kumar said she had been hiding in the area.

The free school lunch was part of India’s midday meal scheme, which feeds 120 million children in an attempt to fight malnutrition and encourage school attendance. The programme had already drawn many complaints over food safety.


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