India School Teacher Charged With Murder Over Toxic Lunch Deaths

The principal of the school in India’s eastern Bihar state where 23 children died after consuming pesticide-laden food in July has been charged with murder, a police official said.

Meena Devi and her husband Arjun Rai also face charges of criminal conspiracy and attempted murder, said Barun Kumar Sinha, Superintendent of Police in Saran, the district where the school is located.

“The case has been filed with the Chief Judicial Magistrate and the cognizance of the offence has been noted,” Sinha said in a telephone interview. “The trial may begin in the next one week.”

The children died after having lunch at a state-run primary school in July. The tragedy was allegedly caused by the presence of monocrotophos, a highly toxic organophosphate insecticide, Abhijit Sinha, an official in the local administration, had said then.

The school-meal plan, part of a web of polices aimed at easing the malnourishment that afflicts almost half the country’s children, has been criticized by the Supreme Court and the comptroller and auditor general for corruption and inefficiencies.

Bihar, one of India’s poorest states, has been admonished by the nation’s top court for its management of the program. In 2010, the latest data available, the central government set aside $80 million for food and $73 million to pay for cooking materials, including the construction of hygienic sheds and water supplies. The state government managed to spend only $30 million of that, the planning commission report found.

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