A Chhapra court on Monday sentenced Gandaman primary school principal to 10 and 7 years imprisonment in connection with the 2013 midday meal tragedy, in which 23 children had died after eating soyabean curry. The principal was found negligent of storing mustard oil in a container having insecticide. The effective punishment for the school principal is 17 years as the court has decided to run the punishment consecutively, not concurrently.
The additional district judge II of Saran court Vijay Anand Tiwari sentenced Gandaman primary school principal Mina Devi to 10 years jail term under IPC sections of 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and seven years under section 308 (criminal negligence). Public prosecutor Surendra Singh told reporters: “The court treated it as rarest of rare case and decided to run sentences consecutively and not concurrently as done in most cases, the court has also slapped a fine of Rs 2.5 lakh under Section 304 and Rs 1.25 under Section 308 on the convict”.
Mina Devi said she would challenge the verdict in Patna High Court, while the public prosecutor expressed satisfaction at the court awarding maximum punishment under the two IPC sections. Patna High Court senior lawyer Tuhin Shankar said, “It is purely up to court’s discretion to decide if sentences should run concurrently or consecutively. Though I have not seen Chhapra verdict, the severity of crime makes a court decide consecutive punishment.”
The court treated it as rarest of the rare case and awarded maximum punishment to the school principal Mina Devi for culpable homicide not amounting to murder and criminal negligence. The court, however, acquitted her of murder charges, attempt to murder and criminal conspiracy, even though the Special Investigation Team had claimed there was a strong case against her. The court acquitted Mina Devi’s husband Arjun Yadav alias Arjun Rai of all charges.
The school principal used to store the groceries used in preparation for the midday meal at her house, and allegedly had kept mustard oil in a container that had traces of pesticide left in it. Devi’s husband, a sugarcane farmer, would keep pesticide at home to sprinkle it on crops. The principal, who was pointed out by cooks and some students about the distinct dark colouration of the oil while cooking soyabean curry, had ignored it.
Over all, 80 children had eaten soyabean curry and rice at Gandaman primary school being run from a single-hall community centre. As books had to be distributed on the day, there was a higher attendance at the school than usual days. The school was later shifted to another village where Gandaman children refused to eat their meals for months. The school was later reopened at its designated building near the tragedy site in 2015. Though villagers later agreed to allow their children to eat lunch at school, the service remained erratic.