Bihar, 20 children die poisoned by "free school lunches"
The tragedy occurred in an state run elementary school in Marakh. 27 other children admitted to hospitals. The little ones ate food contaminated with insecticides. The institute was part of the "Mid-Day Meal" national food program that provides free food in public schools.

New Delhi (AsiaNews / Agencies) - At least 20 children have died after eating poisoned food in a state run elementary school in Bihar (eastern state of India). 27 classmates are being treated in hospitals in Chhapra and Patna (the capital), some are in a serious condition. The incident occurred yesterday in the village of Marakh (Saran district) and has sparked strong protests throughout the area. The children were all under 10 years of age.

The school was part of the national Mid-Day Meal program that provides for the distribution of free food in state institutions to encourage school attendance but which is well below health and safety standards.

The doctors treating surviving children speak of food poisoning. According to Abhijit Sinha, an official of the local administration, chemicals were traced in meals distributed for the Mid-Day Meal, perhaps insecticides in the vegetables or rice.

Nitish Kumar, Bihar chief minister, has sent a team of experts to the school for a thorough investigation. 47 other students from the elementary school in the village of Dharmasati Gandaman have also experienced symptoms of poisoning.

Bihar is one of the poorest and most populous states in India. Introduced for the first time in Chennai (Tamil Nadu) in 1925, the Mid-Day Meal is the largest food program in the world, which each year helps 120 million children in 1.2 million schools across the country.