Free Lunch Kills 20 Young Children at School in India's East

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MUMBAI. July 17. KAZINFORM As many as 20 Indian children died and 27 others are being treated in hospitals after eating a free lunch at a state-run primary school in the eastern state of Bihar, prompting violent protests.

The students, all less than 10 years old, and a cook fell ill yesterday after having lunch at the school in the Saran district of the province, local administration official Abhijit Sinha said by phone. The condition of those being treated was stable, he said.

The tragedy may have been caused by the presence of chemical substances in the food, said Sinha, adding that the government of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had ordered an official inquiry. Television footages showed local people armed with sticks and poles attacking buildings and setting a bus on fire in the area. Opposition politicians called a strike today in the district to protest the deaths.

Provinces in India provide free lunch on school days in a bid to improve nutrition levels and increase attendance. India has the highest percentage of malnourished children in the world except for East Timor, according to the 2012 annual Global Hunger Index. The report said 43.5 percent of Indian children are underweight. It is compiled by a group of non-governmental organizations including the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute.

Food Plans
The country has a web of policies to provide free or subsidized food for the poor, including the Mid-Day Meals Scheme that was adopted in 1995. The effectiveness of the programs has been curbed by rampant corruption and poor governance, investigations by Bloomberg News showed last year.

Corrupt politicians and their criminal syndicates have looted as much as $14.5 billion in food intended for public distribution to impoverished families in the state of Uttar Pradesh, neighboring Bihar, alone.

More than three-quarters of the 1.2 billion population eats less than the minimum targets set by the government. The ratio has risen from about two-thirds in 1983.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bibhudatta Pradhan in New Delhi at bpradhan@bloomberg.net
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Hari Govind at hgovind@bloomberg.net

Source: BLOOMBERG

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