Principal held, Nitish says tragedy did not look like accident

Patna, July 24 (IANS) The principal of a government primary school in Bihar where 23 children died after eating contaminated food was arrested Wednesday even as Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said the incident "did not look like an accident".

Minutes before she was arrested, school principal Meena Devi demanded a CBI probe into the tragedy.

Superintendent of Police Sujit Kumar told IANS over telephone that Meena Devi, the principal of the school at Gandaman village in Saran district where the tragedy occured, was arrested by the Special Investigation Team.

A first information report has been registered against her on penal charges of murder and criminal conspiracy, police said.

Commenting on the deaths of the children, Nitish Kumar said: "This does not look like an accident."

"The children had pointed out that something was wrong with the food," he said, and wanted to know why the food was still thrust on them.

"The accounts given by people, the forensic report, the concentration of pesticide (in the meal), all this points towards something," he said.

The chief minister said police will probe all angles and the guilty will not be spared. "We believe everything will come to light in the police investigation."

"It is a very sad and heart wrenching incident," he said.

Without naming any political party, Nitish Kumar wanted to know why a 'bandh' (shutdown) was called when the children were being rushed to hospitals, and why police vehicles rushing to the site were attacked.

"This is very strange," he said.

Nitish Kumar tried to explain why he had not visited the village where the tragedy took place. "I do not need to tell the Patna media about the condition of my leg."

He also pledged to develop the affected village. "We can't bring back the children who have died but we will do whatever we can for the village."

Meena Devi, who was suspended from service for gross negligence, was dodging arrest from the day of the incident July 16, police said.

Police raided her house twice and recovered a bottle of pesticide, traces of which were suspected to be present in the school food.

According to district officials, Meena Devi had forced the cook to use an allegedly contaminated cooking oil despite the latter's complaint that it had a pungent smell.

A forensic lab report Saturday confirmed presence of toxic insecticide traces in the cooking oil used for making food at the school.

The poisonous substance, organophosphorus, in oil samples collected from school was more than five times the commercial preparation available in market, police said.

Before her arrest, Meena Devi told a Hindi news channel in Saran: "I am innocent and (have been) framed in the case. I demand a CBI probe."

She also denied that her husband owned a grocery shop from where food and groceries for the mid-day meal were purchased.

Earlier in the day, she filed an application for anticipatory bail in the court of the district chief judicial magistrate.

After filing the application, her lawyer said the plea was likely to come up for hearing the next day. But with her arrest, it may now prove to be a futile exercise.

Police also filed a petition in the court to attach Meena Devi's property after obtaining her arrest warrant July 22.

On Tuesday, a court xdeclared Meena Devi a proclaimed offender as she was evading arrest from the day of the incident.

Meanwhile, three lakh school teachers in Bihar have decided to boycott the mid-day meal scheme from July 25 to get rid of non-academic work.

"It was unanimously decided at a meeting of the Bihar State Primary Teachers' Association to boycott the scheme," its president Barajnandan Sharma told IANS.

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