Over 100 students of government schools in Ballari and Bagalkot districts and around 25 students of a government primary school in Hagalur village in Ballari fell ill after consuming separate mid-day meals on Thursday.
According to Arun Rangarajan, the Superintendent of Police of Ballari, several students saw a lizard in the meal, which was reported to the teacher. Soon after the incident was reported, several children in Classes 2, 3 and 4 began to vomit. They were immediately rushed to the local Primary Health Centre where they were treated for food poisoning.
"In Hagalur, the meal was prepared in the school itself. The lizard must have fallen into the sambar pot as it was not closed. All the children are out of danger and safe now," SP Arun said.
In a similar incident in Bagalkot, over 90 children from classes 4, 5 and 6 of the Chikkamagi Government School fell sick after eating the mid-day meal. According to the Bagalkot District Health Officer Ananth Desai, the children began vomiting and a few of them fell unconscious after eating the mid-day meal on Thursday.
"Initially around 35 children began vomiting and three children fell unconscious. They were rushed to the primary health centre. As more children started falling sick, we had to transfer them to the district hospital (Bagalkot District Government Hospital). In total, 105 children have been treated for food poisoning. They were all discharged from the hospital this morning (Friday)," DHO Ananth Desai said.
Ananth Desai said that the mid-day meal was provided by the Akshaya Patra Foundation to the Chikkamagi School. Akshaya Patra had recently come under the government's scanner after the state Food Commission had found discrepancies in the quality and quantity of food provided by the NGO.
Kātaka Food Commission had stated that Akshaya Patra's food was bland and monotonous as they did not use onion and garlic in the meals. This had led to children not eating the food. The commission had also noted that Akshaya Patra was not providing an adequate quantity of food as prescribed by the Karnataka government.
On Wednesday, the state food commission had met with representatives of Akshaya Patra in Bengaluru. "Akshaya Patra representatives said that they would find nutritional replacements for onion and garlic. They denied allegations of the food being bland. The government is testing the food quality and taste in every district. Once the test results are out, we will know how to proceed further," said Krishnamurthy, the Chairman of the Food Commission.
However, Akshaya Patra has refuted the allegations and stated that it did not provide the food served at the school.
"We would like to clarify that this information is factually incorrect. We do not serve mid-day meals in Chikkamagi Government School or any other school in Bagalkot district. We have always strived to ensure that safety and hygiene practices are strictly followed at Akshaya Patra at every step to maintain the highest standards of quality and hygiene. We are committed to serving quality, hygienic, and nutritious food to school children every day as a part of the Mid-Day Meal Programme. We are deeply concerned about the health of the children and pray for their speedy recovery," said officials from the organisation in an email to TNM.