School children eat their free mid-day meal, distributed by a government-run primary school, at Brahimpur village in Chapra district of the eastern Indian state of Bihar July 19, 2013. Police suspect that India's worst outbreak of mass food poisoning in years was caused by cooking oil that had been kept in a container previously used to store pesticide, the magistrate overseeing the investigation said on Friday. Image Credit: Reuters

Patna: Around 300,000 primary school teachers in Bihar have decided to boycott the free midday meal scheme from Thursday, July 25, a week after 23 children died from suspected food poisoning after eating lunch at a primary school.

The teachers say they are irked by the way they are being openly blamed for stealing funds meant for free lunches, or not taking proper care of food preparations resulting in more and more children falling victim to spurious meals. A decision to boycott the midday meal was unanimously taken at a meeting of Bihar State Primary Teachers Association held here on Tuesday.

There are some 300,000 primary teachers in Bihar and boycott of midday meal by them is bound to cripple the entire system in schools. Midday meals are served in over 72,000 primary schools in the state.

“We are very shocked. Sometimes we are accused of stealing midday meal funds, sometimes we are charged with serving spurious food to children. So, we have decided to stay away from midday meal scheme from tomorrow,” Association president Brajnandan Sharma told the media, adding the teachers had no objection over state government involving agencies for this work.

He said the quality of teaching in the state had been the worst casualty, since teachers were burdened with the task of providing cooked meals to the children, adding the teaching community should be kept out of non-teaching duties.

“So many times we requested the government not to involve teachers in non-academic work but our requests were not heeded,” said Sharma, who expressed shock over the way the headmistress at a primary school in Saran district was accused of serving poison-mixed food to the children.

“No teacher can ever think of giving poison to students. There may be mismanagement. Human errors also cannot be ruled out but putting the blame on teachers even before an inquiry is completed means there are being made scapegoats,” said Sharma.

Bihar education minister Prashant Kumar Shahi, however, said it was difficult to arrange an agency for implementing the midday meal scheme and said the teachers had been doing it as per the Supreme Court guidelines.

“The teachers are doing it as per the SC guidelines. The state does not have enough resources to hire an agency,” said Shahi adding the Saran incident was just a blot.

The development comes after 23 children died of eating poisonous meals at a school in Saran district last week. A Forensic Science Laboratory report has confirmed presence of poison in children’s meals.

But even before the FSL report came, the police registered a case of murder against the school headmistress Meena Devi and launched manhunts to nab her.

The absconding headmistress has still not been found.

Meanwhile, a local court has declared the headmistress a fugitive after the police the police informed the court that she might have fled the state.