Why is India facing a medical oxygen crises?

For the past couple of weeks India is suddenly facing a big shortage of medical Oxygen supply, while the government and the ministers deny and say all is ok.

May 08, 2021

By Don Aguiar
For the past couple of weeks India is suddenly facing a big shortage of medical Oxygen supply, while the government and the ministers deny and say all is ok.

A few things which will probably make things clear.

Industrial and medical oxygen are produced in same plant, stored in same tanks and filled in same cylinders. For medical oxygen the gas company just have to analyse each batch and certify. No other difference. In fact for industrial the need is 99.5 percent pure oxygen whereas for medical as per pharmacopeia all over world is 93+\-3 percent.

1) There is absolutely no shortage of oxygen product in India. You will be surprised to know that less than 1% of oxygen production capacity is used for medical purposes. Even in corona times it may go up to three times or even 5%. But that’s it.

2) The estimated total oxygen production capacity in India to be around 100,000 tons per day (or may be more) and around 80% of oxygen production capacities are with steel companies where oxygen gas is produced and used in iron making as well as steel making. Yes, Reliance Jamnagar has 22000 tons per day capacity for pet coke gasification.

3) Most of captive plant are in East India, some in west (Mumbai and Gujarat) and some in Karnataka. These plants typically produce 5-10% of product as liquid which is stored in large tanks. This liquid is used by them as back up when plant is down and also to meet peak demands.

4) There are several standalone liquid oxygen plants owned by gas companies like Linde and Innox. They are the largest oxygen producers in India, where they produce liquid oxygen and sell to various customers through tankers and tanks.

5) Several re fillers around country buy liquid from gas companies and fill gas cylinders after vaporising liquid

6) Oxygen is generally delivered to end user by three means. Directly through pipe line from plant to end user which is say 80% of product. 15% or so is delivered in liquid form through tanks and tankers and less than 5% through cylinders

So why are we facing crisis today? I think combination of followings

a) Shortage of distribution assets i.e. road tankers, storage tanks and cylinders. Mind you these are expensive. Each road tanker costs 4.5 million on road and a cylinder costs around 10,000 in which you sell oxygen just worth 300. These assets have been built by gas companies based on normal times. There is only that much one can do with these assets

b) Logistics management. Most of Plants are located in select geographies. So distribution assets travel fair distance (200-1000 km) to deliver to customer. Now even with good roads a tanker takes around 7-10 days to make a round trip and a cylinder also takes that much turn around.

c) Desire of gas companies to focus on what maximizes their profits

Last but not least had our Government thought of this impending danger and prepared, a major crisis could have been avoided. But that’s easy said than done knowing our democratic set up and the Governments’ need to win elections and so on. Now Government is taking steps.

The Prime Minister now announced to the nation that his government will be providing relief by waiving off customs duty & health cess on oxygen & related equipment. Also Covid-19 related vaccines are exempt from customs duty and assured the nation that this will boost availability as well as make these items cheaper. This announcement was immediately praised by the railway minister, for seeking publicity and praise of the Prime Minister Care and concern for the suffering.

However the Railway Ministers publicity stunt was quickly countered by a Major General and many others who said – “That’s his job Mr Minister. If all organisations start doing this kind of worship, where will it end? Please get on with the work without seeking publicity. This kind of idolizing has negative impact in times of such national crises.” Please take our suggestion positively.

How long can the PMO muzzle the truth from being spoken out? How can the PMO encourage hoarding and profits at the cost of human life? How can the PMO stop the international press that has covered the hypocrisy of the central govt.? What motivates someone to profit of another human’s misery? I will never understand this.

However the tyranny of failed governance is heaped upon none but out children: The ruin of their peace and the base oppression of their lives: The imposition of punishment after punishment for the crimes of innocence, trust and hope. It is time to resolve never to enable the grossly incompetent into the hallowed portals of power. What a shame this is.

Exactly. With great power comes great responsibility, it is said. In an unprecedented crisis such as Covod-19 pandemic, responsibility acquires greater importance. Do we see any iota of this in our present government?

In hindsight I think Government could have planned followings

1) Strict advisory to gas companies to use all distribution assets for medical purpose only from day one. They could provide compensation to gas companies for this just like MSP for food grains.

2) Advise all captive plants owners not to use a drop of liquid oxygen from plant / tank for their process use until they are full.

3) Using railways to transport through green door track

If we all survive this, as I hope we shall, remember this. That when it comes down to it, we didn’t fight for land or weapons or houses or jewelry. We didn’t fight for concert tickets or fancy designations or religion or politics. We didn’t fight for shares in a company or a seat at the table. We didn’t fight for business class tickets or the keys to a house by the beach. When all this is over, remember, that we fought for air.

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