Mid-day meal tragedy: Two years on, justice awaited

Patna: Two years after 23 children died after their mid-day meal at a school in Bihar, their parents and families are still waiting for justice.

The children died on July 16, 2013 after eating contaminated mid-day meal in the government-run primary school in Gandaman village in Saran district, around 100 km from here.

“Soon after the tragedy, everyone from the state government to local police officers promised to conduct a speedy trial to provide justice to 19 families, who have lost 23 children. But where is the speedy trial,” asked Ahilanand Mishra, who lost his son Ashish, while speaking to IANS.

It was Mishra, who filed the FIR against Meena Devi, the principal of the school. He said that he was disappointed as neither the main accused was punished nor the exact cause behind the tragedy was known till date.

“We are still waiting for justice and parents as well as families have been fed up and tired with the ongoing trial in the court and recording their statements before police and court,” Mishra said.

Surendra Rai and Asha Devi, who lost their daughter Mamta in the tragedy, said that the court should complete the trial as soon as possible in the case. “We want a harsh punishment to the accused,” they said.

According to police officers involved in the case, till date, 22 witnesses have appeared in court.

“Those who appeared and recorded their statements include parents who lost their children, doctors who conducted the post-mortem and the cook who prepared the meal,” police said.

Rai said some mothers are still in a state of shock and the health of some mothers has deteriorated.

“My wife Asha is still in the shock and her health has deteriorated,” said Rai.

Besides, Mishra said his wife Putul Devi is in depression.

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

Mishra and Rai said that most of the villagers blamed the mid-day meal tragedy for neglect and failure of the government.

Mishra recalled during the last Lok Sabha polls, many leaders passed through the nearby roads but no one cared to visit the village as they were afraid to enter the village and face angry villagers.

Vinod Mahto, who lost three of his four children in the tragedy, said a Special Investigating Team (SIT) formed by the Bihar government to probe the deaths is yet to submit its report.

“We are waiting for the report to know the exact cause of the tragedy that claimed lives of our innocent children. Let’s hope for justice,” he said.

The state government has constructed a memorial for 23 children in the village in Saran district.

Soon after the tragedy, the Bihar government announced a special scheme to turn Dharmasati-Gandaman into a model village with a high school, a public healthcare centre, a metalled road, drainage system and potable water facilities.

Meena Devi, principal of the school, who has been charged with murder and criminal conspiracy, was arrested in July 2015 and is in judicial custody for the past 720 days.

In Bihar, 16 million students in 72,000 schools daily get food under the mid-day meal scheme.