The small kitchen on the premises of Vidya Varidhi International School in Chikkanayakanahalli, Tumakuru, is a poorly maintained and unhygienic area where food for 29 hostel students is prepared. Health Department officials found this out the unpleasant way as they arrived on a visit on Friday, only to be greeted by rats and cockroaches.
The visit came a day after three boys in the hostel died in a suspected case of food poisoning. “The kitchen was not clean at all. There were a lot of rats,” one of the officials said, adding that the floors had clearly not been cleaned in a long time and the walls not painted at all. “The cereals, rice and vegetables were kept open on the floor. When we went there, rats were feasting on them. The lighting was also poor.”
The official said the kitchen, built of hollow concrete block, seemed to be a temporary arrangement even though the hostel has been running without permission for three years now. The department will submit a report on this to the Deputy Commissioner soon, the official said.
Y. Shreyas, a class 8 student, Akanksh Pallakki, a class 10 student, both from Thimmanahalli in Chikkanayakanahalli taluk, and Shantha Murthy, a class 10 student of Srirampura in Hosadurga taluk, Chitradurga district, died on Thursday after consuming food at the hostel on Wednesday night.
A parent, who did not wish to be named, acknowledged the poor condition of the kitchen. “It resembles a cow shed,” he said.
According to a source familiar with the hostel activities, the head cook, Shivanna, cooks the food for both lunch and dinner, but leaves by afternoon. It is the responsibility of the assistant cook, Rangalakshmi, to prepare rice for dinner. “The sambar and other items prepared in the afternoon are used for dinner also,” the source said.
District Surveillance Officer Puroshottam said 18 samples of rice, sambar, vomitus and raw materials used for cooking have been sent for testing to the Public Health Institute in Bengaluru. He said until the biological and chemical analyses reports come out, the cause of death cannot be established.
According to Rudra Murthy, resident medical officer of the district hospital, the autopsy had revealed that the trio had digested the food completely.
Relatives of Shreyas and Akanksh, along with many others from their village, staged a protest in front of the Huliyar police station on Friday, demanding that a criminal case be registered against those responsible for the deaths.
The agitators withdrew the agitation after Deputy Superintendent of Police Venugopal promised to consider their complaint and carry out a thorough probe.
E. Shivanna, district president of the Students’ Federation of India, said, “There has to be an impartial police investigation… the president of the school is a former BJP MLA. The government has to cancel the permit to run the school and make alternative arrangements for the students studying there.”
However, Deputy Director of Public Instruction, Manjunath, said the school management had permission to run the school but not the hostel. Action will be taken after getting the report of the BEO, he said.
Meanwhile, school watchman Ramesh, who also took ill on Thursday morning, continues to be on ventilator. District surgeon Veerabhadraiah said he is responding to treatment but is not out of danger yet.
Sudarshan, a class 8 student, is out of danger and is in the Paediatric ICU at the Tumakuru district government hospital. He is likely to be discharged on Saturday.
Four employees of the hostel — Shivanna, Rangalakshmi, mess in-charge Suhas and attender Jagadish — who were arrested have been released on bail.
Cameras not working
The 10-year-old Vidya Varidhi International School, which is affiliated to CBSE and has 1,048 students, has installed CCTV cameras, but the police found that none of them are in working condition.
The investigators, looking for some leads into the death of three hostel students at the school, checked the CCTV footage and found it to be of no use. “The CCTV cameras seized from the school are not working, and we have told the police to see the DVR of the CCTV,” Additional Superintendent of Police, Manjunath, told The Hindu