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101 East

23 Little Lives

Who is responsible after 23 Indian children died from eating tainted school lunches provided by the government?

Last updated: 20 Dec 2013 07:47
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The parents in Gandaman village in India's Bihar state are poor and illiterate but like parents anywhere they dream of a better life for their children.

As they toil in the fields, living hand to mouth, they send their kids to school in the hope they will find a path out of the grinding poverty and deprivation. But one shocking day in July, going to school cost 23 children their lives.

The students, none older than 10, died after eating their school lunch, a meal provided under a nationwide government programme to 120 million children every school day.

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The programme is credited with helping reduce child malnutrition, but now Indians are asking why a programme set up to save children's lives has instead killed 23.

As they probed the case, police quickly discovered that the food given to the children in Gandaman village was tainted with a cheap and readily available pesticide.

Was that a result of gross negligence or was it - as some locals believe - a deliberate, calculated act?

As rumours and recriminations flew, parents grieved and villagers rioted in anger and despair.

Reporter Mary Ann Jolley travels to the scene of the tragedy to sort the facts from the fiction in this disturbing case.

The school principal, who locals say forced the children to eat the tainted food, is now in custody facing charges of murder and conspiracy - but is she culpable or a convenient scapegoat? The police operation and new evidences throw up shocking facts.

We talk to parents about their unbearable loss and visit the deserted school where the bodies of the 23 children lay buried.

Travelling to bustling Mumbai, we interview India's chemical king, Rajju Shroff, who heads up the pesticide giant United Phosphorous, and ask why is it that India continues to use a product considered gravely hazardous by the World Health Organisation and banned in many countries.

Meanwhile, an inspector who has investigated the lunch programme tells us that he has been reporting problems with the programme for years, but that the government has refused to take action. Millions of other children who rely on the food programme could be at risk, he says.

Through interviews with the families torn apart by this tragedy and those responsible for uncovering why the children of Gandaman village died,101 East sheds new light on this tragic incident and asks what is being done to prevent more children from dying?

Who is responsible when 23 Indian schoolchildren die from eating #poisoned school lunches? @AJ101East #23LittleLives

101 East  airs each week at the following times GMT: Thursday: 2230; Friday: 0930; Saturday: 0330; Sunday: 1630.   

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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