Patna: Eleven more children who ate mid-day meal at their school in Bihar's Saran district died overnight, pushing up the toll to 21. Ten more children are battling for their lives, officials said, as the tragedy triggered protests.
Amarjeet Singh, principal secretary, education, confirmed the toll and said he suspected the deaths occurred by organo phosphorous poisoning caused by traces of insecticides.
District Magistrate Abhijit Sinha said 10 children died after eating the mid-day meal at Dharamsati primary school in Masrakh in Saran district, about 100 km from here. Later, eleven more children died and more than 60 fell ill.
Over two dozen sick children have been brought to the Patna Medical College and Hospital after their condition deteriorated.
"Ten children are still critical," a hospital official said.
Hundreds of people have been protesting in Saran since late Tuesday night, demanding strict action against government officials responsible for the tragedy.
Twenty dead children were buried near the school.
A case has been registered against the school's headmistress Meena Devi and other teachers.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar expressed shock over the incident and announced a compensation of Rs.2 lakh to the kin of each of the dead school children.
The deaths triggered a political row with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Wednesday calling Nitish Kumar "insensitive".
"The chief minister of Bihar instead of showing promptness in evacuating the children to a better medical facility has announced a ex-gratia amount of Rs.2 lakh for the children who died after having a mid-day meal. This showcases the insensitivity and the callous attitude," said BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy in Delhi.
In Bihar, widespread corruption is reported in the mid-day meal scheme and government guidelines on food quality are ignored.
In the past, dead lizards, frogs, insects and a rat were found in food cooked for the mid-day meal at schools, angering students and parents.