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Oxygen shortage: Several districts in Maharashtra plan own plants

An oxygen generation plant uses air, compresses it and purifies it to extract 93 per cent oxygen. In contrast liquid oxygen plants use cryogenic distillation plants to get 99.5 per cent purity.

Written by Tabassum Barnagarwala | Beed |
Updated: September 13, 2020 10:29:31 am
pune coronavirus latest updates, pune covid cases, pune covid hospitals, pune covid oxygen hospitals, pune oxygen supply, pmc, pune city newsThe PMC has been treating Covid-19 patients at the civic-run Naidu hospital and has a total of 155 beds, including 70 oxygen and seven ICU beds. (Representational)

As a sudden shortage of medical oxygen hits several states due to a spike in Covid-19 patients, several Maharashtra districts are now in the process of installing their own oxygen generation plants to cut dependence on suppliers.

District collectors are working to set up their own oxygen plants in Osmanabad, Beed, Nandurbar and Pimpri Oxygen shortageChinchwad. More districts are set to issue tender for oxygen plants.

Dr Archana Patil, additional director in the public health department, said 14 districts have already installed an oxygen plant, 16 others are in process of setting up. “We have also created a district-level committee of FDA, health and transport to look into oxygen demand and smoothen supply. This committee will resolve any shortage issue hospitals are facing,” Patil said.

Maharashtra has two main suppliers, Inox Air Products and Linde India, which together produce 800 metric ton liquid oxygen every day. Inox has four plants in Raigad, Pune and Nagpur. Linde has two plants in Raigad and Thane. Transportation of supplies to Marathwada and North Maharashtra takes a day straining hospitals in these regions.

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A senior official from Inox said their pre-Covid oxygen demand stood at 100 metric tonne a day. It has risen threefold to 350-370 metric ton now. “Our plant does not have capacity beyond 400 metric tonne, and it is not possible to expand. That can take months. If cases continue to rise, we will not be able to satisfy all hospitals’ requirements,” the official said. Linde can produce up to 300-400 metric tonne liquid oxygen per day.

Units in Maharashtra have a total capacity to produce 1,210 metric tonne oxygen every day of which 40 per cent was diverted to industrial use while 60 per cent was diverted for medical purposes. However, in view of the shortage the Maharashtra government had asked suppliers to ensure that 80 per cent of supplies were directed towards hospitals.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) data shows that the current demand for medical usage is up to 868 metric tonne. The problem of supply has been compounded further in distant regions of Marathwada and North Maharashtra where the suppliers take time to deliver oxygen. There are 2.71 lakh active Covid cases in the state, of them approximately 30,000 are in need of oxygen support, with critical ones requiring 40-60 litres per minute. State officials are currently managing to provide oxygen to Covid hospitals, but non-Covid hospitals are suffering from paucity of supply. If cases further escalate, even Covid hospitals are set to face shortage.

“Earlier 40 per cent of oxygen was diverted towards industrial use, now we have cut it down to 20 per cent. Suppliers are asked to reserve at least 80 per cent for medical use,” said J B Mantri, joint commissioner (drugs), FDA.

Mantri said the current issue revolves around transportation. “There are not enough tankers. We are trying to rope in methanol tankers to redirect its use for oxygen transport,” he added. The state is also in talks with the Union government to utilise nitrogen tankers for transportation.

As oxygen gets diverted for medical use, industries, involving iron and steel cutting, thermal plants, railway track projects, are also getting affected. Raj Gore, from Hariom Gas Industries, said, “We are providing 100 per cent supply to hospitals. All industry customers have been kept on hold, they have been forced to shut.” Hariom converts liquid oxygen into gas, and supplies 2-3 metric tonne to government hospitals in Beed every day.

Officials from FDA, transport commissioner, medical education, public health and industry department are together working on 24 hours oxygen production and supply. JSW Steel has agreed to provide 18 metric tonne oxygen every day for medical purposes. Its Mangaon facility in Pune produced oxygen for captive consumption to cut steel, which will now be diverted for Covid patients. State officials said electricity supply to oxygen plants will not be cut.

There also had been instances in certain districts where authorities had restricted inter-district movement of oxygen to first cater to their own patients. Last fortnight Latur restricted its supply to Beed in order to stock for its own Covid-19 patients. Supply was only resumed when the Beed collector intervened. Beed is now installing three oxygen generation plants at three Covid hospitals to avoid future problems.

An oxygen generation plant uses air, compresses it and purifies it to extract 93 per cent oxygen. In contrast liquid oxygen plants use cryogenic distillation plants to get 99.5 per cent purity. Experts said given the situation, oxygen generation plants are best alternatives to commercial liquid oxygen. “We are installing 10 kilo litre plants in dedicated Covid hospitals. This will cut wait time for cylinders to arrive,” said Dr Eknath More, deputy director in the public health department and incharge of four districts in Marathwada.

Weather data

WBCIS provides coverage to horticulture crops and farmers in Maharashtra have enthusiastically enrolled for the scheme. Farmers insure crops such as pomegranate and banana to help them cushion against incidents of crop loss due to extreme climate events. Given the fact the premium paid by farmers is much lower than the compensation received in case of crop loss, most farmers make it a point to insure their crops right at the beginning of the season.

Once enrolled, farmers can apply for compensation if an ‘extreme weather event’ destroys their crops. Before the claims are settled, they are verified by the insurance companies, which also check the local weather data. The data is collected from 2,092 weather stations installed in every revenue circle of the state. Each revenue circle is responsible for collection of weather data for the five to 10 villages under it.

The data is, therefore, important to settle claims of crop loss due to extreme weather events like heavy rain, extreme cold or extreme rise in temperature. Data from the stations are captured every 10 minutes and shared with the central website of the Agriculture department.

That something was amiss this year was detected by meteorologists responsible for observing the data, who found anomalies in the data recorded from the Deodaithan revenue circle in Shrigonda taluka of Ahmednagar district. Between August 28 to September 2, the weather station reported medium to heavy rainfall but the accompanying readings of other parameters did not mention rain.

“For example, we know of a certain behaviour of all five readings in case an area receives rain, but the observed parameters did not match the same. This prompted us to raise the red flag… we thought the measuring instruments had malfunctioned,” said an official.

On August 28, the station recorded only 9 mm of rain, but the quantum of rain recorded by the data was much more. “Red flags were already raised over the anomaly in the readings from this circle, so a close watch was kept on the data generated from this station. On a certain day, the rainfall recorded was 59 mm in a span of just 10 minutes, which almost meant that the station had witnessed a cloud burst like situation,” said the officer.

The Agriculture department even sent engineers to the site to check whether the instruments were malfunctioning, but they were found to be in working condition. A special team, comprising revenue and agriculture officers, was formed to look into the matter. Local villagers confirmed that there was light rainfall, but no heavy or very heavy rainfall in the area, on that day. “It was clear that someone had tried to manipulate the rainfall data by physically pouring water into the rain gauge. A complaint was filed with the local police station against unknown people for tampering with the measuring device,” said an officer of the Agriculture department.

This is not the first time that the state government has faced attempts to tamper weather station data. Last year, three FIRs were registered in Jalgaon district against unknown people who had tried to influence the temperature measurement in the AWS by placing ice on the measuring instruments. “Again, the sharp deviation of other parameters had flagged the situation, following which FIRs were lodged,” said the official. Department officials believe that the latest attempt to manipulate data may be to ensure that the criteria needed for payment of compensation are met in localised areas. But they also warned that in the long run, tampering with the data will compromise its accuracy and value, and this would be detrimental for the sector.

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