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Fearing shortage of medical oxygen, Punjab appoints nodal officers across districts to monitor supply

Given the Covid surge that the state is facing, Ludhiana alone has a daily demand of 1,000 oxygen cylinders. This is despite the fact that major hospitals of Ludhiana have their own oxygen plants.

Written by Raakhi Jagga | Ludhiana | September 13, 2020 2:57:47 pm
During a virtual Covid review meeting, CM Amarinder Singh on Monday directed the Health Department to step up indigenous manufacturing of medical oxygen to supplement the current supplies and ensure there is no shortage to tackle any future crisis due to Covid-19 spread. (Express photo: Gurmeet Singh)

With a rise in Covid patients needing oxygen, the Punjab government has appointed nodal officers across districts to ensure that the state faces no gap in supply of medical oxygen. Punjab has sixteen units that are into the business of supplying medical oxygen. On Thursday, DCs of Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Fategarh Sahib, Mohali, Amritsar and Bathinda called meetings of all the oxygen suppliers and asked them to ensure medical oxygen supply to all hospitals on priority.

The 16 units in the state have a capacity of producing 5,000 cylinders per day in-house, while for the rest of the demand, they depend on neighbouring states and hence act as distributors by re-filling cylinders after getting oxygen tankers, which come to different units in Punjab from Panipat, Dehradun and Baddi.

Given the Covid surge that the state is facing, Ludhiana alone has a daily demand of 1,000 oxygen cylinders. This is despite the fact that major hospitals of Ludhiana have their own oxygen plants.

“Having oxygen is not an issue, but having an oxygen cylinder is a major issue. This is causing a deficiency as cylinders are limited in number,” said a Haibowal-based doctor while talking to The Indian Express. Sources revealed that as patient load is increasing in Punjab hospitals, daily demand of oxygen is increasing manifold. Apart from hospitals, now even people are asking for oxygen cylinders at home as a number of patients in home isolation don’t want to get admitted to hospitals, said Ravinder Arora, former Ludhiana district president of the BJP. Arora, who is also chairman of NGO Samvedna Trust,

said, “We are providing oxygen cylinders free of cost to needy people and as of now six cylinders have been sent to different places. Many others who can afford are even buying cylinders for their elderly patients for which even prices have also been increased by suppliers.”

Meanwhile, following directions by Punjab government, Amit Baimby, a PCS officer, has been made nodal officer for oxygen supply related issues in Ludhiana. Apart from this, a Focal Point based unit which was lying closed for some reasons has been asked to re-manufacture medical oxygen cylinders and hence 800 medical oxygen cylinders per day will be made in Ludhiana’s plant itself rather than depending upon other states.

“This will make Ludhiana self-sufficient as already they have capacity of refilling 3,000 cylinders as well. Oxygen supply is not an issue now.” said Ludhiana DC Varinder Sharma.

In Jalandhar, a meeting was held on September 10 where three oxygen suppliers/cylinder manufacturing unit owners were called. Jalandhar DC Ghanshyam Thori said, “One officer has been made responsible for each unit and at the same time, unit owners have been strictly told to provide medical oxygen on priority to hospitals at fixed rates. Action under Disaster Management Act will be taken against the ones who will fail to comply.”

B Srinivasan, DC, Bathinda, said, “Our district and nearby districts have no issues regarding medical oxygen. However, Civil Surgeon is monitoring the supply issue.”

Meanwhile, rates of refilling cylinders have gone up. While earlier it was Rs 200 per cylinder, during the pandemic it has gone slightly up for hospitals, while private citizens are getting it for Rs 500. Further, the refundable security amount for each cylinder has been increased to 9,000 from Rs 7,000 earlier. Apart from this, Rs 100 is the charge per day for keeping cylinder which earlier used to be Rs 50.

C Sibin, Director, Industries and Commerce, Punjab said, “We have already written to DCs to take up the issue with oxygen suppliers as deficiency can come in the coming days. At the same time, we also took up matter with Principal Secretaries of Uttrakhand, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh last week when supply of medical oxygen was coming short from these states. Now the situation is under control and if needed, we can flag the issue yet again.”

Impact on industrial oxygen supply

After strict directions by Punjab government to supply medical oxygen to hospitals on top priority, state’s industrial associations are now worried that the order will impact supply of industrial oxygen. Both medical and industrial oxygen are manufactured at the same plants. Upkar Singh, president of Chamber of Industrial and Commercial Undertakings (CICU), said, “MSME industry of Punjab is going to be hit very hard from next week, as state government has directed oxygen manufacturers/ suppliers to provide oxygen to hospitals first of all because of which black marketing of industrial oxygen has started from Saturday itself. We used to get one re-filling of industrial oxygen for Rs 80 per cylinder which has now been priced at Rs 300 per cylinder.”

He added that Ludhiana alone has demand of around 35,000 oxygen cylinders for industrial purposes per day which are used in steel, welding, engineering and other allied units which cannot function without oxygen supply. In addition to this, even food packaging industry also needs nitrogen cylinders which are also manufactured within the same units and hence even its supply is also going to be affected.

“Industry should be given re-fill cylinders and supply should not come to a halt all of a sudden,” he said.

Director, Industries, C Sibin said,”We have not directed any unit to stop supplies to industry.”

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