The Centre, on April 18, banned the supply of oxygen for industrial purposes, except in nine specified industries and termed it “essential public health commodity”, as hospitals face severe shortage amid the unprecedented second wave of COVID-19 cases in India.
The decision came amid rapidly increasing cases and high demand for medical oxygen from states such as Delhi, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said.
In fact, demand for medical grade oxygen rose by almost 60 percent and is expected to rise further as cases increase, Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said.
So, here is all you need to know about the oxygen supply situation in India and developments so far:
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>> While the ban on sale of oxygen to most industries was notified on April 18, it will come into effect from April 22.
>> The Centre’s Empowered Group-II reviewed the supply of oxygen for industrial use in order to divert the same to meet the rising demand for medical oxygen in India and save precious lives.
>> Per the recommendation, all industrial sale (except nine specified industries) of oxygen has been banned from April 22 till further orders.
>> Nine industries exempted from the ban include food and water treatment plants, pharma units, oil refiners, nuclear energy facilities, steel plants, plants refilling oxygen cylinders, wastewater treatment plants and industries engaged in continuous production that require furnaces.
>> The EG-II consists of secretaries from DPIIT, MSME and Textile ministries.
>> Industries that have been banned “should consider importing oxygen or setting up their own air separator units to meet requirements,” Bhushan told states on April 1d.
>> So far severe shortage has been seen in Delhi, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, while demand in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal and some parts of MP are being met by steel companies and oil refineries in these states.
>> Dependence on steel and refinery units are not without problems though as they face issues with bottling and transportation of oxygen. Thus, some measures are expected from the Centre to ease logistical constraints.
>> Units providing oxygen include: ArcelorMittal (200 tonnes/day), JSW (50-100 tonnes/day – Chhattisgarh and Odisha), SAIL (33,000 tonnes over last few days), Tata Steel (200-300 tonnes/daily – various states) and Nippon Steel India.
>> Meanwhile the Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative (IFFCO) said that it will set up an oxygen plant with 200 cubic metres per hour capacity in its Kajol unit in Gujarat. This will be provided to hospitals in the state for free.
>> The plant will generate medical grade oxygen and fill 700 big D type cylinders daily and also 300 medium B size cylinders on demand. Hospitals will however have to bring their own cylinders or pay a security deposit for IFFCO’s cylinders in order to check hoarding of oxygen.
>> Union Minister Harsh Vardhan said the Centre is expediting set up of 162 pressure swing adsorption (PSA) oxygen plants with capacity of 154.19 MT in public health facilities, and a 24X7 cell is coordinating with states for the same.
>> These PSA plants will help hospitals become self-sufficient and reduce burden on the national grid, he added.
>> Further, Indian Railways has said that it will run 'Oxygen Express' trains over the next few days to transport liquid medical oxygen and oxygen cylinders across the country. First tankers for this are expected to begin from April 19 and a green corridor is being created for free movement of these trains, an official told PTI.
>> The move from IR comes after Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh approached the Rail Ministry for help transporting oxygen tanks via the rail network.Follow our full COVID-19 coverage here