"No such alert was issued to us. In the meeting of project approval board, a study by A N Sinha Institute of Social Science and Jamia Millia University had pointed out that in many places standard of hygiene was not maintained on which the government acted promptly," Principal Secretary Education Amarjeet Sinha said.

Accompanied by Director, Mid-day meal program, R Lakshamanan,Sinha said based on the studies, the state government in April held a training for principals and cooks to the maintain standard of cleanness in food for the scheme.

Earlier in the day, Union HRD Minister MM Pallam Raju said warnings were issued to 12 Bihar districts including Saran where the tragedy occurred after some short comings in the implementation of the program were identified.

Sinha repeated the remarks of Education Minister P K Shahi on Wednesday that the food was poisonous as confirmed by presence of organic phosphorous.

The case seemed to be one of poisoning of food and not food poisoning, he stressed. "Insecticide was mixed in large quantity in the oil Used for cooking food or it seems that the food was cooked in the insecticide," Sinha said.

The presence of organic phosphorous was clinically Confirmed by doctors, he said. "The report of the laboratory test of the food is Expected on Friday which will give a final verdict over the issue," he said.

Lakshamanan said that regular monitoring of schools was being done and action taken wherever shortcomings were sighted.
    
Over 2,000 cooks of midday meal were removed last year and FIRs lodged in 54 cases of human negligence in implementation of the program in the state, he said.
    
He said there was instruction that only ISI or Agmark oil should be used for cooking midday meals. Sinha said that in future the department officials would seek reports about the quality of food items purchased by the school education committee for the scheme.
    
In the Dharmasati Gandaman School, the principal used to purchase items from a shop which was not of high standard. The shop was owned by her husband in the village.
    
Lakshmanan said the state government had received permission from the Centre for appointment of 67,000 new cooks for preparation of meal under the scheme.
    
Sinha said the department has decided to provide training in first aid to principals of schools so that they could take immediate corrective steps in cases like the school in Saran district.
    
"Though the present case is the first of its kind in which so many children have lost lives, but complaint of vomiting and stomach ache due to contamination in food because of presence of lizard, dead or sometimes alive, is frequent.
    
"In such cases, a principal trained in first aid will be of great help," the two said.
    
Sinha said that nearly 13,500 schools including the primary school in Saran district did not have its own building because land was not available and were being run either in community centres or rented houses.
    
The primary school in Saran came up in 2010 and was being run in a community centre.  Sinha said that the state government had acquired land for construction of 7,600 schools in the current financial year.

For rest of the schools many of which were in the open, the department was thinking of tagging them with a nearby school, he said.
    
The Principal Secretary said that the department was also thinking of expanding the school education committee entrusted with the task of monitoring implementation of the mid-day meal scheme.
    
"At present, there are 13 members in such committee in schools headed by a ward council or panchayat head. The department is thinking of increasing this to 19 by including more women members whose wards are in the school for better quality check of the food," Sinha said.
    
"Opinion for expanding the committee members and adding a provision that the members themselves choose their chairman have been taken from the law department and it will come into action soon after getting the government nod," he said.
    
Lakshamanan said that in view of a report that in many schools students brought their own plates, the state government had decided to provide fund to schools for purchase of new plates.

In the first phase, new plates would be available in the middle schools which would subsequently to extend to primary schools, he said.
    
The mid-day meal director said with utensils used for cooking food having become old, the government had decided to provide Rs 26,000 to each school for buying new ones.
    
Sinha and Lakshmanan said Chhapra tragedy taught the government many lessons which would enable it to take more action to ensure trouble-free implementation of the mid-day meal scheme. The mid-day meal, a flagship programme of the Union government, is in action in 70,260 schools in Bihar covering 1.30 crore children.

(Agencies)

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