The mid-day meal tragedy has sparked a blame game with the Bihar government on Friday refuting Centre's contention of having sent alerts to 12 districts including Saran, where 23 children died after consuming food, over shortcomings in the implementation of the scheme.
"We are surprised over the assertions of the Union government over sending alerts...no alerts ever came to us," Principal Secretary HRD Amarjeet Sinha told mediapersons in Patna.
The Union HRD ministry, which pilots the programme, claimed that it had alerted 12 Bihar districts after loopholes were detected in executing the scheme. Sinha said a general communique had come in April regarding poor performance in coverage of midday meal scheme in 144 districts of the country.
"The letter dated April 18, 2013 written by Amarjit Singh, additional secretary (Union HRD ministry), pointed to reasons for poor coverage of the scheme in 144 districts of the country and had asked officials to take steps to enroll more students in the programme," Sinha said.
In fact a central government report praised performance of Bihar in increasing coverage area under midday meal scheme, Sinha accompanied by Director, Midday meal scheme R Lakshamanan said.
As per the "Annual Status of Education Report, 2012, the coverage area in Bihar of the programme which was 57.2 per cent in 2010 increased to 75 per cent last year, Sinha said.
Meanwhile, the principal of the Chhapra school where the 23 children, most of them under 10 years of age, died after eating mid-day meal, and her grocer husband, evaded arrest for the fourth day on Friday. "The police are conducting searches and have also spoken to relatives of the absconding principal, Meena Devi, and her grocer husband Arjun Rai but they are yet to be arrested," Saran SP Sujit Kumar said.
A first information report has been lodged against the principal in connection with Tuesday's tragedy in which 23 students, lost their lives after eating food served to them in the school.
The principal and her husband, from whose shop she had purchased the cooking oil suspected to be laced with insecticide, have fled after the incident. Their house in Dharmasati Gandaman village in Mashrakh block, about 50 km from Chhapra, is also locked.
Meanwhile, Saran District Magistrate Abhijit Sinha said though mid-day meal is being provided to students as usual, in majority of the schools, he had received inputs of a number of children not taking the food out of fear.
Asked about the forensic science laboratory) report on whether the food served at primary school Dharamsati Gandaman on Tuesday last contained poisonous pesticide, Amarjeet Sinha said the lab test was taking more time and the report is expected either by on Saturday.
In New Delhi, the Union HRD Ministry said it is finalising a report on the tragedy and it is expected to be submitted by next Tuesday. In Madhepura, two women cooks, who had fainted after tasting mid-day meal at a government school, were discharged from the hospital on Friday.
Rita Devi and Renu Devi were discharged on Friday afternoon after their condition improved, said A K Verma, in-charge district civil surgeon at the district hospital. The duo had cooked the food for the school situated at Khar village in Gamariah block of the district on Thursday.
When the children refused to take the food because of foul smell and the principal asking them to throw it, the two tasted the food and fainted. The Madhepura incident came close on the heels of midday meals tragedy in Saran and another one at Madhubani where 50 students were taken ill after eating food served to them in government middle school Navtolia in Bisfi block.