An innocuous breakfast of fruit lies next to a boy in hospital, who ended up here as the result of another meal - one that proved fatal for many.
The sick youngster was among a group of school children in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, who fell ill after eating a free school lunch contaminated with pesticide. Twenty-three children died in the incident, which proved to be one of the deadliest outbreaks of mass poisoning in years.
18 Jul 2013. CHAPRA, India. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
A woman convulses with grief as she mourns the death of her niece - one of the children who died after eating the contaminated food.
The youngsters, aged four to 12, fell ill within minutes of consuming a meal of rice and potato curry in their one-room school in Gandaman village, vomiting and convulsing with stomach cramps. Death came so quickly for some that they died in their parents' arms while being taken to hospital.
Police said they suspected that cooking oil used in the meal had been kept in a container previously used to store a toxic pesticide. They are looking for the headmistress of the school, who fled after the deaths.
19 Jul 2013. CHAPRA, India. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
At a primary school not far from the one where the tragedy took place, a schoolboy puts his plate away after having eaten a government-sponsored meal - part of the same program under which the nearby school provided food to the children who fell ill.
The nationwide Mid-Day Meal Scheme had already drawn widespread complaints over food safety, and a Reuters review of audit reports and research papers shows officials have long ignored warnings of lack of oversight and accountability.
Nevertheless, the scheme of giving school pupils a free lunch has been widely lauded as one of the most successful welfare measures in India, home to a quarter of the world's hungry, because it not only provides food to the poor, but also boosts school enrolments and helps children to continue studies.