IS THERE A SHORTAGE? 

-       India has capacity of producing about 7,250 tonnes of oxygen per day. Before the coronavirus pandemic, India's healthcare system had a demand of about 700 tonnes of oxygen per day. The excess production meant the country has about 50,000 tonnes of stored oxygen - industrial as well medical grade.

-       The breathing gas was not a controlled commodity earlier as India had been a surplus producer of oxygen.Now the oxygen supply is being monitored by the Centre. 

-       Industrial oxygen is purified at over 93 per cent to convert it into medical grade, called Liquid Medical Oxygen (LMO). The demand of oxygen in the healthcare system has increased now to 5,000-8,000 tonnes per day. 

-       Considering the storage, the demand can be easily met but the problem lies in the logistics of transporting medical oxygen - involving the number of cryogenic containers, and the distribution system.

-       Following SOS oxygen calls from states and hospitals, and directions from various courts, the central government and some state governments are taking steps to meet the oxygen demand in hospitals.

-       An ugly picture emerged in the past few days when some states appeared to block oxygen supply to other states fearing acute shortage of the breathing gas in hospitals within their territories. Maharashtra and Delhi - two of the worst-affected places by Covid-19 pandemic - complained about oxygen tankers not reaching their hospitals.

-       The reports led to the Centre relocating oxygen to affected states based on their requirements. A panel, called the Empowered Group 2 (EG 2) under the Prime Minister's Office, is monitoring the oxygen supply. The EG 2 has members from all states, major oxygen manufacturing firms and departments involved in transport.

-       Some states have more plants to produce oxygen while some others depend on their neighbours for the supply. However, Maharashtra and Gujarat, which are the biggest oxygen producers are facing medical oxygen supply problems.

-       The main problem is that medical oxygen is not reaching hospital beds in time. This delay is a product of where production units are located, a stretched distribution network, and what critics have said is bad planning.

-       With COVID-19 cases also swamping its neighbouring states like Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, oxygen facilities there are over-stretched attempting to meet local demand.

-       Given the hazardous nature of the substance, all liquid oxygen must be transported in a limited number of specialised tankers, requiring advance planning to ensure deliveries are made on time, a gas industry source told Reuters. time it takes to move oxygen cross-country by road. 

 

WHAT IS INDIA DOING ? 

-       The federal government has activated the Indian railways to move multiple tankers from refilling plants to where it is most needed.

-       Some states such as Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha are oxygen surplus states. Indian Railways has launched a roll-on roll-off (Ro-Ro) train service for transport of medical oxygen from surplus states to deficient states.

-       Oxygen Express' trains are running from Vizag in Andhra Pradesh to Mumbai and other places in Maharashtra. Similarly, containers are moving from Bokaro in Jharkhand to places in Uttar Pradesh.

-       The central government has decided to airlift mobile oxygen generation plants from countries such as Germany. The Air Force has been pressed into service to lift 23 mobile generation plants to be airlifted from Germany.

-       The Delhi government too decided to airlift oxygen tanks from Odisha to ensure supply of the breathing gas to the hospitals in the city.

-       The armed forces too have stepped in. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh held a meeting of top officials including the three defence chiefs to help the civil administration deal with the Covid-19 crisis.

-       The defence ministry officials said an oxygen producing technology developed for light combat aircraft (LCA) Tejas was shared with the industry to scale up the production further. The technology can produce 1,000 litre of oxygen per minute. 

-       Working with industrial gas major Linde India (LIND.NS) and others, the government is also using the Air Force's cargo planes to fly empty tankers to production hubs. Refilled oxygen tankers will then move back by road.

-       The armed forces are importing 23 mobile oxygen generation plants from Germany.

-       Several other industries are offering oxygen to hospitals, while salt-to-software conglomerate Tata Group is importing 24 specialised containers to transport liquid oxygen.

-       The government has issued orders to convert argon and nitrogen tankers into oxygen ones.

-       But as some experts predict a trebling of daily infections in a few weeks, India will have to dramatically ramp up both oxygen production and distribution systems.

-       many breathless Covid-19 patients have died due to the unavailability of medical oxygen in hospitals situated in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.

-       A flurry of SOS messages on Twitter and other social media platforms show the severity of the oxygen shortage in these states. Meanwhile, opposition party leaders and affected citizens have slammed the Centre and state governments for the shortage of medical oxygen, which is necessary for hospitals to keep critical Covid patients alive.

 

ARE OXYGEN EXPORTS TO BLAME?

 

-       Oxygen export data from the Department of Commerce showed that the country exported twice as much oxygen to the world during the first 10 months of FY21 in comparison to the previous financial year.

-       India had exported 9,301 metric tonnes of oxygen across the world between April 2020 and January 2021. In comparison, the country had exported only 4,502 metric tonnes of oxygen in FY20. The oxygen supplied was in liquid form and can be used for both industrial and medical use.

-       However, the demand for oxygen in India was not as high during the aforementioned period. During the first wave, the demand for liquid medical oxygen (LMO) increased from 700 metric tonnes per day (MTPD) to 2,800 MTPD. But during the second wave, it has skyrocketed to 5,000 MTPD. It was only in the second week of April when demand for medical oxygen in India witnessed a five-fold jump, according to Crisil.

-       While many are blaming the government over India’s FY21 oxygen exports, the fact that the country produces over 7,000 metric tonnes of liquid oxygen per day indicates that the problem lies somewhere else.

-       The issue is that supply is available in places that are very far away from the demand. We are trying to find a way to transport the same, logistical issues in supplying oxygen has also become a major issue for companies that manufacture liquid oxygen.

-       The 24×7 availability of cryogenic tankers — necessary for transporting liquid oxygen — is difficult given the fact that many hospitals are facing a shortage at the same time. The need of the hour is to manufacture more cryogenic tanks, which can take up to four months. 

-       The shortage of such tankers has led to a significant delay in inter-state transportation of oxygen from manufacturers to hospitals. It may be noted that medical facilities and healthcare centres located in remote areas face a bigger crisis due to longer transportation time.

-       The Centre has also sanctioned the installation of 162 Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA) oxygen plants in public health facilities across states. The plants will augment medical oxygen capacity by 154.19 metric tonnes, according to the health ministry.

-       Despite these efforts, a lot will depend on whether the country manages to reduce daily Covid-19 infections over the next few weeks. If the chain of infections is not broken by the end of May, India could witness an alarming oxygen crisis.

 

WHAT DO VARIOUS COURTS SAY? 

-       The Supreme Court  'suo motu' (on its own) took note of the "grim" situation in the country and the havoc caused due to shortage of oxygen cylinders in hospitals, the Delhi High Court observed, "We all know that this country is being run by God," a day after it came down heavily on the Centre over the COVID-19 management.

-       Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), through its President and senior advocate Vikas Singh, filed a plea seeking to intervene as a party in the suo-motu case titled "Distribution of Essential Supplies and Services During Pandemic", and said under the given situation, the high courts are best suited to deal with local issues.

-       The Bombay High Court also directed the Centre and the Maharashtra government to file their respective replies by May 4 on the management of available resources, including hospital beds, Remdesivir drug, vaccines and oxygen, to tackle the pandemic. It asked the Union Government to reconsider its stand that door-to-door COVID-19 vaccination was not feasible, saying it must consider the plight of old people and the disabled.

-       The Gujarat High Court asked the state government to formulate a policy for the distribution of Remdesivir injections to hospitals in view of the high demand of the key anti-COVID drug.The hearing on a PIL taken up Suo Motu on the COVID-19 situation was conducted by the court via video conference on April 20 and a detailed order was made available on Thursday. At present, Remdesivir injections are used "in the order of preference which apparently is need-based and in priority of hospital", the high court said in its order.

-       The Delhi High Court came down strongly on the Centre on Wednesday, saying it seemed that “human lives are not that important  for the state”. “Beg, borrow or steal. It is a national emergency,” said the Division Bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli. “You have your own state-run steel plants and petroleum industries. Why can’t you curtail it? Why can’t you stop it? Why can’t you minimise it to whatever is absolutely critical? We can understand that you cannot shut down petroleum production completely in the country because it is a critical thing by itself, but you can reduce it. We are sure that if you were to divert their oxygen for medical use, you would be able to meet the requirement”.

 

Abha Singh, 4/24/2021 12:00:00 AM


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