With the number of active Covid-19 cases touching almost 20 lakh and with more than one lakh more patients being added daily, the demand for medical oxygen has shot up dramatically. The government has already diverted for medical use, oxygen used for industrial applications, barring that meant for a few critical industries.
The demand for medical oxygen has already touched nearly 60 per cent of total oxygen produced. Some critical industries such as nuclear power plants, pharmaceutical firms, petroleum refineries and steel plants have been exempted from this. Many States are facing severe oxygen shortage.
According to a statement by the Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan in September last year, India produces around 6,900 tonnes of oxygen per day and nearly a third of this is used for industrial applications.
With the situation becoming precarious, many industries have come forward to augment the supply of medical oxygen in the country.
In February, for instance, Inox Air Products, the biggest domestic manufacturer of medical gases, announced that it will add 1,500 tonnes to its daily medical oxygen generation capacity across six new plants. However, commissioning the projects is expected to take around 18-24 months, an Inox official told BusinessLine. The firm currently has a production capacity of 2,000 tonnes per day. Manufacturers of medical oxygen are also wary of any plant breakdown due to wear and tear. “We are concerned because all our plants have been running at 100 per cent capacity since the pandemic began,” the Inox official said.
Breath of life
Similarly, public sector Indian Oil Corporation has begun the supply of 150 tonnes of oxygen free to hospitals in Delhi, Haryana and Punjab. “Indian Oil has diverted the high-purity oxygen used in its Mono Ethylene Glycol unit to produce medical-grade liquid oxygen at its Panipat Refinery & Petrochemical Complex. The throughput of the unit has also been scaled down for a more critical cause,” the firm said in a statement on Monday.
Jindal Steel and Power Ltd is another firm that rose to the occasion. Over the last two weeks, the firm has been supplying around 50-100 tonnes of liquid oxygen daily to hospitals from its plants in Raigarh, Chhattisgarh, and Angul , Odisha, a spokesperson said.
Cooperative fertiliser major IFFCO, on the other hand, said on Monday that it would set up four medical oxygen units in its fertiliser plants in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Odisha at a cost of ₹30 crore. IFFCO said it has already issued the order and the commissioning of the plants can happen in 15 days. It plans to supply oxygen free of cost to hospitals.
Looking at the increasing demand for medical oxygen, the Centre has also decided to import 50,000 tonnes of oxygen. The Health Ministry has been asked to invite the tenders at the earliest.