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Indian police arrest school principal in food poisoning case

A sick girl Khushi Kumari (C) sits next to her grandfather inside a hospital, after she consumed contaminated meals given to children at a s
A sick girl Khushi Kumari (C) sits next to her grandfather inside a hospital, after she consumed contaminated meals given to children at a s

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian police on Wednesday arrested the headmistress of a school where 23 children died after eating a meal laced with pesticide in one of India's deadliest food poisoning outbreaks in years.

The woman, who had been missing for more than a week, was detained while on her way to court to surrender, said Sujit Kumar, superintendent of police in Saran district in the eastern state of Bihar.

The children fell ill within minutes of eating a meal of rice and soybean-potato curry in their one-room school on July 16, vomiting and convulsing with stomach cramps. Many died, some on the floor of a hospital where they went for treatment, within hours of consuming the food.

Forensic tests showed the meal was contaminated with monocrotophos, a lethal pesticide banned in many countries. Police have said the headmistress is key to solving the mystery of how the pesticide ended up in the food.

Police have been searching for the woman since she fled the district where the school is located. Kumar said she had been hiding in the district.

The free school lunch was part of India's mid-day meal scheme that covers 120 million children and aims to fight malnutrition and encourage school attendance. The program had already drawn widespread complaints over food safety.

(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj and Ross Colvin; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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