PATNA, India - At least 20 children died and dozens were taken to hospital with apparent food poisoning after eating a meal provided for free at their school in the Indian state of Bihar, the education minister said on Wednesday, sparking violent protests.
Police said the children, aged eight to 11, fell ill after consuming a lunch of rice, soybean and pulses on Tuesday. The school, in the district of Chapra, provided free meals under the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, the world's largest school feeding program involving 120 million children.
Education minister M.M. Pallam Raju said a school cook had also died. The initial death toll of eight shot up to 20 on Wednesday.
The exact cause of the deaths will be known only after the postmortem examinations and food sample tests, doctors and state officials said.
Dozens of residents took to the streets in Chapra, pelting a police station with stones and setting ablaze buses and other vehicles, television channels showed.
"We are currently treating 27 children here," said R.K. Singh, medical superintendent at the children's hospital in the state capital, Patna. "Of them nine are in serious condition, 18 are stable."