A principal was arrested in India after 23 children were poisoned by their free school lunches. The woman, Meena Kumari, fled the area after the children started falling ill.
The school lunch was prepared with contaminated oil that was found to contain a toxic level of pesticides. A police team investigating the deaths made the arrest on Wednesday.
Authorities are questioning the principal to find out how the pesticide came into contact with the food, reports CBS News. Kumari allegedly brought the contaminated ingredients to the school from a shop her husband owns. He has also fled the region.
Twenty-three children between the ages of five and 12 died after they ate the free school lunch last week. Many others were sickened. The school’s cooks stated after the incident that the principal controls the food for the lunch, which is provided for free by the government.
One cook added that the cooking oil appeared different than normal, according to USA Today. However, the principal instructed her to use it anyway. India’s midday meal plan is one of the world’s largest nutrition programs for schools. It was first introduced in southern India in the 1960s as an incentive for parents to send their children to school.
The program now covers about 120 million school-aged children and is an effort to help combat malnutrition. The Indian government estimates bout half of all children in the country suffer from it.
There have been some questions about the quality of food served. However, the incident in Bihar that killed 23 children is unprecedented. State governments are able to decide on menus and timings of the meals. However, authorities are working to streamline the program in light of the recent incident.
Bihar’s chief minister Nitish Kumar added that all of those responsible for the tragedy, including the Indian principal arrested on Wednesday, will be punished. He added, “No one will be spared.” It is likely authorities will seek the principal’s husband as well for questioning and possible charges.