Govt steps in to counter oxygen crisis; MHA directs free movement

Topics Coronavirus | Home Ministry | Oxygen

India has floated a global tender for procuring 50,000 tonnes of oxygen.
On a day when the Union government stepped in to prevent states from hindering the movement of liquid medical oxygen (LMO) to other states, India also placed four orders with foreign suppliers for 2,500 tonnes of the essential commodity. Additionally, from Friday, the Indian Air Force (IAF) will airlift empty oxygen tankers and reach them to industrial units that have switched to producing medical grade oxygen.


While one C17 aircraft of the IAF, used for strategic airlift missions and transportation of troops and cargo, would fly from Delhi to Durgapur in West Bengal with empty tankers, the other would transport oxygen tanks between Hyderabad in Telangana and Angul in Odisha. The filled-up tankers would return by road since they cannot be airlifted.


Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a high level meeting on oxygen availability on Thursday, following rising instances of Covid-19 patients dying due to the lack of oxygen and leading hospital chains like Max Hospital going to court to seek its timely replenishment. “Domestic production of oxygen as of today is not short, but we are tying up imports to meet any contingency,” said an official.


India has floated a global tender for procuring 50,000 tonnes of oxygen. The first imports would be coming from Singapore, China and the Gulf countries since they are the nearest geographically, the official added. The immediate concern, however, is the availability of empty cryogenic tankers, especially for imports from China. These tankers, which maintain a temperature of minus 183 degree Celsius, would be transported by sea to India. 


The ministry of external affairs has been tasked with arranging the tankers.


During the meeting, Modi was informed that the states have been asked to specify their demand for oxygen so that adequate supply can be ensured. As against the current demand of 6,785 tonnes per day (tpa) of LMO from 20 states, the Centre has allocated 6,822 tpa as of April 21, according to a government press release issued after the meeting. In the last few days, the availability of LMO has increased by about 3,300 tpa, with contributions from private and public steel plants, oxygen manufacturers, other industries, as well as by prohibiting the supply of oxygen to non-essential industry, the release said.


During the meeting, the Prime Minister directed that oxygen supply to various states should be unhindered and local administrations held responsible for instances of obstruction.


In his order on Thursday, Union home secretary AK Bhalla said, “No restriction shall be imposed on the movement of medical oxygen between the states and transport authorities shall be instructed to accordingly allow free inter-state movement of oxygen carrying vehicles.” The instruction followed reports that the Haryana and Uttar Pradesh administrations were preventing the movement of oxygen tankers to Delhi.


Besides, states and union territories would have to abide by the supply plan of medical oxygen prepared by the empowered group (EG) II.


The Indian Railways has also been pressed into service to transport LMO tankers. One rake is slated to transport 105 tonnes of LMO from Visakh­apatnam in Andhra Pradesh to Maharashtra. A similar movement of tankers will take place from Bokaro in Jharkhand to Uttar Pradesh. A 270km Lucknow to Varanasi 'green corridor', where trains carrying oxygen tankers have first right of way, was created earlier.

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