As the magnitude of the second wave of coronavirus in India continues to escalate, controversies and political struggles revolving around medical oxygen shortage are also on the rise. What is the reality of India’s oxygen reserve?
To meet the demand in Delhi, medical oxygen is supplied from the eastern industrial areas. Oxygen has to come from states as far away as 1,000 km from Delhi. Due to the hazardous nature of the material, only a limited amount of liquid oxygen can be transported in special tankers. Gas industry sources say advance planning is needed to ensure timely deliveries. Unbalanced supply and lack of technical logistics have led to oxygen crisis in some states.
In Maharashtra, COVID-19 cases have been alarmingly rising since February. The demand for medical oxygen also started to rise at this point. The situation worsened as the second wave of COVID intensified in March. Balram Bhargava, director general of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), had pointed out that, unlike the first wave, shortness of breath was turning out to be a major concern among COVID-19 patients during the second wave. This doubled the need for medical oxygen. A COVID-19 patient needs 130 litres of oxygen per minute. It can last up to an hour.
According to the Prime Minister’s Office, 6,822 tonnes of liquid oxygen is being allocated to the 20 most distressed states in the country per day. As on April 12, India’s total medical oxygen demand was just 3,842 tonnes. According to the Central Government, the availability of liquid medical oxygen increased about 3,300 tonnes in the last few days. To produce oxygen, the Center had approved 162 pressure swing absorption plants for government hospitals. So far, only 33 have been established in 15 states.
India has a production capacity of at least 7,100 tonnes of oxygen for industrial use. According to Oxygen Exporting Data from the Commerce Department, the country exported twice of the oxygen in the last 10 months compared to the previous fiscal year. However, the demand for oxygen in India was not high during the above period. Crisil reports that the demand increased fivefold in the second week of April.
Siddharth Jain, Director, Inox Air Products, says that India has enough oxygen production to meet the current demand. Jain added that some states face shortage due to supply problems. Inox meets about 50 percent of the country’s medical oxygen demand. Other major manufacturers are Linde India, Goyal MG Gases Pvt Ltd and National Oxygen Limited.