With the delivery of medical oxygen having almost doubled to 8,900 metric tonnes (MT) on May 8 from around 4,800 MT on April 15, the government’s Empowered Group has set tight internal deadlines for a range of tasks — from training oxygen tanker drivers to setting up dedicated PSA oxygen plants, and acquiring technical and logistic equipment including oxygen concentrators, cylinders, cryogenic tankers, and zeolites.
“The government will spare no effort in reaching oxygen to all patients who need it,” Transport Secretary Giridhar Aramane, who heads the Empowered Group-2, said. “We will work with state governments, experts, doctors, and manufacturers to ensure that all available oxygen is supplied to hospitals. We are trying to maximise supply to hospitals,” he said.
Aramane identified three big challenges in ensuring oxygen supply.
“All the plants are functioning at peak capacity. We have put together a separate electricity team. Director/joint secretary-level officers and Power Ministry officials are monitoring each of these plants to ensure there is no tripping or breakdown…that is one issue we are taking care of,” he said.
“The second issue was driver fatigue. We are taking care of that by training relief drivers.
“The third issue is of the progression of the disease itself. We must be very cautious. We must put in all our efforts to ensure that the spread does not happen,” Aramane said.
Empowered Group-2 has been tasked with ensuring supply of oxygen across the country. While demand has increased over the past weeks, production too has gone up. Transportation of medical oxygen has, however, presented a challenge.
Official data show oxygen production has increased from 8,419 MT per day on April 21 to 9,446 MT per day on May 6, and is expected to cross 9,500 MT by August. “It may touch 10,000 [MT/day] if everything goes right,” Aramane said.
“If in the 73 years (since Independence) we could build a capacity of only 6,800 [MT/day], in a period of 7-8 months we have ramped it up by almost 1,200 MT. It’s almost one fifth of the existing capacity,” he said.
An additional 70 MT/day is expected from the Universal Air plant in Karnataka by the end of August, Aramane said. Eight public sector and private steel plants plan to add an additional 630 MT/day liquid medical oxygen capacity over the next three years, he added.
The delivery of the liquid medical oxygen to hospitals across the country has reached 8,900 MT on May 8 from 4,795 MT on April 15, Aramane said.
To address the shortage of items like oxygen cylinders, concentrators, PSA plants, containers, and cryogenic tankers, the Group has worked on sourcing, identifying domestic suppliers and estimating import requirements and sources.
Official records show the Group has drawn up a plan to procure 3.35 lakh oxygen cylinders “in line with estimated increase in demand”. Orders have been placed for 1,27,000 cylinders last month, and the Empowered Group estimates an additional demand of 2,06,000 cylinders including 1,34,000 jumbo cylinders and 72,000 regular ones, in the coming days. The demand is expected to be met through both domestic manufacture and imports by the public and private sectors.
“The availability of medical oxygen cylinders has increased from 4.35 lakh in March 2020 to 11.19 lakh in May 2021,” Aramane said.
To increase the availability of medical oxygen at all government hospitals, the Group has set a deadline for setting up PSA oxygen plants.
Of the 162 PSA oxygen plants sanctioned under the PM CARES Fund in 2020, 148 are targetted for installation by the end of June, Aramane said.
“In addition to this, 1,051 PSA plants sanctioned under the PM CARES Fund in March and April 2021 are being expedited and will be commissioned in the next three months in phases – 218 in May, 400 in June, and 433 in July,” he said.
According to Aramane, orders have been placed for 40 plants with domestic manufacturers and 161 with foreign manufacturers. Three hundred and fifty plants will be procured from L&T and BEML. “93 PSA plants have also been ordered and they are also likely to be set up in next few weeks,” he said.
Aramane said 150 nitrogen plants would be converted to oxygen plants very soon. “Work has already started. We have placed orders for zeolite and it will be arriving any time soon. And these should start functioning in two-three weeks,” he said.
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