India school lunches: Bihar teachers boycott scheme
Tens of thousands of teachers in India's Bihar state have boycotted a free school lunch scheme to protest against the arrest of the head teacher of a school where 23 children died after eating a meal last week.
A teachers' spokesman said 90% of the 300,000 employed at state-run primary schools took part in the boycott.
But the authorities said only 20% of schools went without a Mid-Day meal.
In Bihar, 16 million pupils are given free lunch at 70,200 primary schools.
The Mid-Day meal scheme was introduced to combat hunger and boost school attendance, and reaches 120 million children in 1.2 million schools across the country.
It provides free food for pupils, but often hygiene is poor.
Last week, 47 children, aged between five and 12, were taken ill after eating a free meal of rice and soya beans in Saran district. Twenty-three died in the hospital.
High levels of an agricultural insecticide were found in samples of the food they ate.
The school principal, Meena Kumari, was arrested on Wednesday but has yet to appear in court. Police have said they intend to charge her with murder and gross negligence.'No option left'
"We'll stay away from this Mid-Day meal scheme which is getting us a bad name. We are always made the scapegoat whenever an incident happens, but there is huge corruption in the way it is run," Brajnandan Sharma, president of the primary school teachers' association, told the BBC.
"We feel sorry for the students, but there is no option left for us," he added.
Mr Sharma said 90% of school teachers had refused to participate in the scheme on Friday.
But Amarjeet Sinha, a senior official in the state education department, told the BBC that "only 20% [of] schools are affected across the state. In the rest of the schools, the Mid-Day meal scheme is going on as usual".
Meanwhile, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has appealed to the teachers to continue with the current system until alternate arrangements are made.
Mr Kumar has also invited the teachers for talks on Saturday.
After last week's tragedy, police said scientific tests had detected "very toxic" levels of the pesticide monocrotophos in the deadly meals.
Vegetable oil used to prepare the food was revealed to be highly contaminated.
There have been widespread protests following the deaths and children across India have reportedly been refusing school meals.
The scheme was first introduced for children from poor backgrounds in the southern city of Chennai (Madras) in 1925.