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Bihar Mid Day Meal Deaths: A Report by Right to Food Case Adviser

A report by State Right to Food Advisor and His team,Bihar RTF

 Mr. Rupesh, the State Advisor of the Honorable Supreme Court’s Commissioner, Mr. Sanjay Kumar, senior researcher and Mr. Naim, a school teacher visited Dharmasati Gandaman, Saran on July 18, 2013, after the death of 23 school children and hospitalization of more than fifty school children due to consumption of on July 16, 2013.

On the morning of 18th July, the team departed from the office of the Advisor at 7.30 and reached the place of incident at 10.30. The team began with the visit of the Dharmasati Gandaman primary school, where school children have died owing to the consumption of MDM. The school located at the beginning of the village main road and is being run in a small 200 square feet one room community hall. A 100 square feet verandah is also built alongside the room, which is in a dilapidated and unclean condition. It opens in to a ground outside the school building. When the team reached there, a crowd was assembled around the school.

After interaction with the crowd, it was learnt that most of them were not from this village. The team was introduced to one elderly villager namely, Rameshwar Mahto by Manoj Tiwari and Jitendra Kumar of Khajoori and Bahuar villages respectively. Rameshwar Mahto has lost his three grand children (Arti Kumari 8 years, Shanti Kumari 6 years and Vikas Kumar 4 years) in the said incident.

He informed that the attendance of children were relatively higher on the day of the incident since the principal of the school had announced about the distribution of books last day. Soon after eating mid day meal children have started vomiting. He ran to the school on hearing the outcry of the villagers and saw children vomiting and falling unconscious. They rushed immediately to the government hospital at Mashrakh, where Dr. Ansari advised to go to private hospital on the pretext of lack of adequate facility in the hospital but the raging crowd forced him to admit them. Later, he along with some of villagers took their children on ambulance and carried them to Sadar Hospital (district hospital), where their children declared dead.

While asked about who’s responsible for the death of children, he directly holds the school head mistress culpable. He further narrated that the mid day meal cook had informed her about the bad smell and smoke from the cooking oil at the time of cooking food but she said that “tel theek hai, bachche roz-roz achcha khana hi khayenge? Tum chupchap khana banao” (Oil is good, is it necessary that children will eat good food daily? You better do your job quietly). The curry was looking bad after being cooked. Even children complained to her about the bad curry but she threatened them by showing a stick and told “khana khao wanra school se bhaga denge” (Eat your food or else she will throw them out of the school”).

When asked, Rameshwar Mahto described the social and economic condition of the village. He informed us that the village has around four hundred families comprising 150 scheduled caste families, around 125 Nonia (castes traditionally engaged in digging land / soil but presently do agriculture), twenty Brahmin, ten Muslim, 25 Yadav, ten Gond (scheduled tribe) and fifty families belonging to other caste groups. The village has around one thousand bighas agriculture land, which is largely with Brahmins and Yadavas. Others have small pieces of agriculture land between five canals to two bighas. Members of scheduled caste and Nonia communities migrate to Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Gujarat and Mumbai in search of work. Share cropping and agriculture labour are the main livelihood options for them.

Sushil Kumar, a Gond from the village took the team to Nonia tola, where the team saw a group of women sitting under a tree. Akhilesh Prasad, whose in laws live in this village, works as a tailor in Mumbai, informed the team about his two children, who are admitted in Patna Medical College and Hospital. He added that since some children have given the poisoned food to their goats and cows and from then they are not using the milk. The team found both the cow and goat in healthy condition and observed that the animals are being milked by the villagers.

After some time, more women joined the team. They called one child namely Sujit Mahto (s/o Chander Mahto). He told that he threw food soon after he tasted the food and came running to his home and informed his parent that something bad is mixed in the food but the head mistress is insisting on eating food.

Another villager Jayram Mishra recalls that when children were falling unconscious, he called Arjun Rai, husband of Head Mistress, who announced that he will bear all the expenses for children’s medication and care. However, they fled from the village soon after the death of first child.

Devmani Kunwar, a villager form Nonia tola described to the team that when children fell sick they carried them children to the sub divisional hospital, where they have not been given proper attention. They had to resort to force to pressurize the Medical officer, Dr. Ansari and in the meanwhile called another doctor from outside hospital to treat sick children in the hospital itself. Even that did not help and condition further deteriorated. They pressurized driver of government ambulance and carried some children to Chhapra Sadar Hospital and rest of the children were taken to the hospital on their own by the parents. No assistance was provided by government during the entire episode. The Chhapra Sadar Hospital referred 31 admitted children to PMCH, Patna. Four children died on the way to Patna.

Devrati Kunwar, an elderly widow from the crowd explained that 20 kg of food grain is given to every BPL families once in three months on payment of Rs. 150. Even old age pension is not given to old aged destitute women like her. Her contention was supported by every women present during the discussions.

Thereafter, the team went to meet and interact with other families of deceased children. Sushil Kumar guided the team to the house of Bali Mahto, who has lost his five year old son Ashok Kumar, a student of grade one, in this unfortunate incident. He expressed that his son too have died due to lack of timely and adequate medical attention because initial 3-4 hours, after the poisoning, have been lost just in reaching to sub-divisional hospital and Chhapra Sadar Hospital and in the meantime children have died.

Then the team met Akhik Mishra, father of Ashish Kumar, a five year old student, who lost his life after consuming poisonous mid day meal. He told that his son was going to the school for last one month only. He further narrated that on the day of incident he ate soybeans. He ran to the school when he heard about sickness of his son. He carried him to government hospital on his motor cycle, where no facility was in place. Then he went to the clinic of a local medical practitioner Dr. Sitaram Pandey, who expressed his helplessness and declined to treat. His son died while being treated in Sadar Hospital. He demanded for CBI enquiry in the incident. He questioned government’s announcement of two lakh compensation and expressed his anguish that will this money bring his son back? Others added that the whole village is in deep grief and no one has cooked last three days. They informed that one Sikh officer came to the village along with some policemen. He told villagers that he is a central government official and urged everyone to speak in the same things as they are have narrated to him. They further added that “iske alawa pichhle 3 dino me Sarkar ki chaprasi se lekar koi padadhikari ya mantri hamari sudh lene abhi tak nahi aaya hai” (Except this, no one, including any peon, officer or minister, has come from the Bihar government, from last three days to see us). Nandlal Mahto, who has buried eight children, including three children buried opposite to the school premise, was called by the villagers to meet the team.

Then father of Akhil Mishra guided the team to the families who have lost their children in this incident. The team reached house of Baliram Mishra, whose son Roshan Mishra, aged 10, has died and daughter is being treated at PMCH. Baliram Mishra elaborated that on hearing about the incident in the school, he took his children to PHC but due to inept treatment at the PHC, he rushed to Sadar Hospital where his son was declared dead. Another villager present on the spot namely Raju Sahu, reported about his son Shiv Kumar, who died after consuming poisoned mid day meal. He told that on reaching the sub-divisional hospital (PHC), there was no provision of medicines and treatment. Neither there was any proper ambulance facility to transfer the children to Chhapra Sadar Hospital nor there was any administrative support made available for them. Due to this delay in treatment to his son, he lost his life. Harendra Mishra, an agriculture laborer, has ten children, lost his two children in this incident.

The team went to Dalit basti of the village, where they met Shankar Thakur. He has three children and lost his seven year old daughter, Baby Kumari, a grade two student. He recalled that at the time when he heard about the mishap, he was at his shop. He ran towards the school and somehow managed to carry his daughter to the hospital. She had her last breath on the way to the hospital.

Nagendra Mahto, a casual laborer, lost his eight year old daughter Soni Kumari. She died during her treatment at Chhapra Sadar Hospital. Krishna Mahto, who lives about fifty meters away from Nagendra Mahto’s house, was lying distressed outside his mud house and was not in a position to talk. Nagendra Mahto informed the team that he is an ice cream vendor in Delhi and live there for about 7-8 months in a year. He has come to the village after hearing about death his five year old daughter Nirah Mahto.

After leaving Krishna Mahto’s house, the team met Nanhak Mahto, alongwith another woman near a tree, where they were talking to a third person, who was a former MLA from their constituency. The woman was telling to him that 4-5 days back, when pesticides were being sprayed in the sugar cane field, a lot of fishes died and children were asking to bring fishes to home but were stopped by parents from doing so. Nanhak Mahto and others had also acknowledged it.

Nanhak Mahto told the team that his seven year old daughter Rita died in Chhapra Sadar Hospital.

Rahul Kumar, an eight year old son of Satyendra Ram has also died in the same MDM incident. His wife is very serious due to this loss.

After meeting the families in Dalit basti, the team went to Yadav tola. The team met Ramanand Yadav, a relative of Meena Kumari (School Principal). He informed team that Priyanka Kumari, aged seven years, daughter of his niece Kajal Kumari and his neighbor Bhageru Rai, died in Sadar Hospital. He further added that three children of the MDM cook (wife of late Abhishek Kumar Yadav), namely Adeet (aged 7 years), Abhishek (aged 4 years) and Khushi (aged 1 year) have been admitted to PMCH. Panna Devi, assistant to the Cook, has also lost her two children, Rohit Kumar and Suman Kumari in the above incident. Upendra Rai, a relative of the school principal, has lost his son Anshu Kumar in the MDM mishap.

The representative of Advisor to Commissioner, Supreme Court of in the matter PUCL vs. Union of [WP (c) 196/2001] made a visit to PMCH and met children, cook, superintendent and HOD and tried to know about the incident.

After talking to children the team came to know that all children felt the taste of MDM very bad while eating but the head mistress compelled them to consume the same bad food. The team spoke with Kanti Kumari (uncle Chnadrama Mahto), Prince Kumar s/o Uma Shankar Mishra, Savita s/o Surendra Prasad Yadav, Pinki d/o Chandrama Yadav, Priti Kumari d/o Lal Dev Mahto, and Kajal Kuari d/o Sanju Devi.

While talking to the cook she admitted that there was some problem with the cooking oil as it turned black on being heated. She also informed about this to the principal but principal insisted on cooking in the same oil. She recalled that the principal said “tel theek hai, bachche roz-roz achcha khana hi khayenge? Tum chupchap khana banao” (Oil is good, is it necessary that children will eat good food daily? You better do your job quietly).

The team observed that children were given drip and they were complaining about stomach ache and nausea. The team also observed that all children are not being given adequate treatment.

The Dr. Sujata Rai, HOD, Pediatrics, informed that 31 children have been last night and out of which four are brought dead. He added that they have vacated beds to treat these 27 sick children, for that they have to remove other patients. Medicines and saline/glucose are arranged adequately. The hospital has started treatment with the given facilities at the hospital. She also said that these children will be discharged within two days. Hospital Superintendent also supported the contentions of HOD.

Key Facts

Infrastructure and Management

  • The new school was initiated without adequate infrastructure despite a middle school was already functioning in the village;
  • Whether any order was issued in respect of the above by the state government or district administration?
  • Why an alternative teacher has not been provided to the school in the wake of maternity leave of one out of two lady teachers?
  • Can one teacher alone perform functions such as teaching, daily purchase and transport of mid day meals, management of mid day meals and care of children?
  • Whether it is possible for an untrained Para-Teacher, who is paid meager Rs. 6300 monthly salary, to teach children up to grade five?
  • Why such a building was chosen to open a school, where building has no doors, windows, facility for cooking mid day meals, floor is completely broken and neither there is any space for storing cooking materials? The only hand pump gives hard water, which was not even used by the head mistress. There is all likelihood of occurrence of such mishap. 

Monitoring

  • The state, district and block monitoring authorities- Directorate, Mid-Day Meals, ADM, Mid Day Meals, District Education Officer, Block Education Officer and Block Resource Person have never visited this school for monitoring;
  • No efforts have ever been made to activate Village Management Committee;

Health Services and Management

  • PHCs are not equipped to deal with such situation. Dr. Ansari, Medical Officer of PHC expressed his helplessness and inability to tackle the situation. There were no facilities, such as specialists, bed, medicine, syringe, injection, saline or glucose, provided at the PHC.
  • There was no transport facility available at the PHC for transporting patients to the Sadar Hospital, therefore it took around four hours to reach there. However even in Sadar Hospital, facilities were grossly inadequate and needed medical attention was not provided.

Responsibility and Accountability

  • Since 2005, cooked mid day meals have been served in schools in Bihar. So far only 55-60% of allocated money has been utilized.
  • So far only 50% allocated money for kitchen facilities has been utilized.
  • The ruling as well as the opposition parties never make mid day meals their political or poll agenda.
  • Political representatives do not play any constructive role in appropriate management and improvement of any welfare schemes though they take political mileage and advantage of such issues.
  • Responsibility and accountability has not been imposed and ensured on political representatives from assembly to local bodies, and administrative bodies.

Recommendations

  • To order investigation in the matter by a sitting judge of the Hon’ble Supreme Court;
  • To implement the Supreme Court’s directions on Mid Day Meals  and educational institutions in letter and spirit;
  • To implement the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE Act) in the state of Bihar;
  • To equip all schools in the state with proper infrastructure such as safe and all weather school building, kitchen, store, utensils, dish, safe drinking water, safe and hygienic toilets etc. within next six months;
  • To promote and encourage community monitoring system and social audit;
  • To ensure teacher-student ratio of 25:1;
  • To relieve teachers of the responsibility of mid day meals in schools and to provide for a new and separate system based on community participation;
  • To provide proper and periodic training to cook, assistant and other staff;
  • To prepare and execute Standard Operational Plan (SOP) for quality control in mid day meals;
  • To ensure strict implementation of the provision of tasting food by the principal before serving food to students;
  • To ensure cleanliness of the place of cooking, storage and dinning and also hand washing before cooking, serving and dinning;
  • To provide for a well equipped hospital at the Panchayat level;
  • To provided for compulsory monthly health checkups to every students;
  • To establish a body / institution to regulate use of hazardous chemicals and pesticides for agriculture;
  • To address and minimize the issue of problems in co-ordination between state and center and to prepare monthly plan to streamline and check delays in allocation and utilization of funds for the scheme;
  • To ensure payment salary to the cook and helpers at the existing minimum wage rates and in no case less than the same;
  • To make political representatives from assembly to local bodies, and administrative bodies, responsible and accountable.

Hence, in view of the above incident the Chief Minister, Education Minister, Chief Secretary, Principal Secretary, Director- Mid Day Meal Scheme and District and Block Level Officers must respond and act.

We are:

Rupesh (State Advisor, Commissioners to Supreme Court in the matter WP (c) 196/2001), Arti (PACS), Neelu (Bihar Women’s Network), Arshad Ajmal (Right to Food Campaign, Bihar) Sanjay Kumar Singh (Lok Parishad), Tanveer Akhtar (IPTA), Vinod Kumar, Prakash Gardia and Pravind Kumar Praveen (OXFAM India), Sujit Verma (The Hunger Project), Ravindra Kumar Rai (Right to Food Campaign, Bihar), Danison, Dr. Shakeel (Jan Swasthya Abhiyan), Ramesh Pankaj (Muzaffarpur Vikas Mandal) Vinod Kumar Ranjan, Prof. Vinay Kumar Kanth (Patna University), Sanjay Kumar (PGVS) and Others.

Translated from Hindi to English by Nadim Nikhat  

For further clarification contact Mr. Rupesh at [email protected]

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