July 24, 2013 / 11:23 AM / 6 years ago

Police arrest school principal in Bihar mid-day meal poisoning case

A school girl holds a container to receive her free mid-day meal, distributed by a government-run primary school, at Brahimpur village in Chapra district of Bihar July 19, 2013. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Police on Wednesday arrested the headmistress of the school in Bihar where 23 children died after eating a meal laced with pesticide in one of India’s deadliest food poisoning outbreaks in years.

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

The children fell ill within minutes of eating a meal of rice and soybean-potato curry in their one-room school on July 16, vomiting and convulsing with stomach cramps. Many died, some on the floor of a hospital where they went 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 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 where the school is located. Kumar said she had been hiding in the district.

The free school lunch was part of the mid-day meal scheme that covers 120 million children and aims to fight malnutrition and encourage school attendance. The programme had already drawn widespread complaints over food safety.

Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj and Ross Colvin; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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