Covid: 162 oxygen-generating plants planned, 33 set up
An exercise to install oxygen-generating plants on-site in 162 government hospitals across India to support Covid-19 treatment announced last October and sanctioned with funds in January this year has set up only 33 plants at a time India stares at depleting medical oxygen reserves.
The Union health ministry on Sunday said five plants in Madhya Pradesh, four in Himachal Pradesh, three each in Chandigarh, Gujarat, and Uttarakhand, two each in Bihar, Karnataka and Telangana, and one each in nine other states have been installed.
The Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM CARES) fund trust had in January this year allocated Rs 201.5 crore for the installation of 162 pressure swing adsorption (PSA) oxygen-generating plants in public hospitals in 32 states.
An on-site medical PSA oxygen-generator can produce medical-grade oxygen 24 hours a day, seven days a week and reduce a hospital’s dependence on the traditional store-and-supply system that is currently experiencing intense strain under India’s second Covid-19 wave.
The health ministry has said the significant surge in demand for medical oxygen has reached 60 per cent of the total daily oxygen production and is expected to rise further in the coming weeks.
The Centre in consultation with 32 states had proposed 162 public health hospitals where the PSA oxygen-generating plants were to be installed. Maharashtra, the state hardest-hit by Covid-19, was to get 10 PSA plants while Bengal was to get five plants. Neither state has received a plant yet.
The health ministry tweeted on Sunday that 59 more plants will be installed in April and the balance in May.
A query from this newspaper to the ministry asking whether there has been a delay in implementation or this was the planned timeline did not elicit a response.
India has several PSA oxygen-generator suppliers, said a chemical engineer in a top government research institution, and efforts to install the PSA plants simultaneously across multiple sites could have added to India’s available medical oxygen supplies.
“A PSA oxygen-generator is not a very challenging technology, but it uses special materials and certain components of the plant’s control panels might be imported — there must be some weak link, some pain point, that might explain the slow progress,” said the engineer who requested anonymity.
The demand for oxygen has increased in at least 12 states — Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan — all with fast-growing Covid-19 epidemics.
The Centre on Sunday also announced restrictions on the supply of industrial oxygen from April 22 to make it available for medical-grade oxygen, citing the sharp rise in Covid-19 cases and the resultant rapid demand for oxygen.
Union home secretary Ajay Bhalla wrote to states saying the Centre’s empowered group of officials has “recommended to prohibit the supply of oxygen for industrial purposes by manufacturers and suppliers, with the exception of nine specified industries.”
The nine sectors exempted are ampoules and vials, pharmaceuticals, petroleum refineries, steel plants, nuclear energy facilities, oxygen cylinder manufacturers, waste-water treatment plants, food and water purification, and process industries requiring uninterrupted furnace operations.
India on Sunday recorded 261,500 new Covid cases and 1,501 deaths, raising the total number of active patients to over 1.8 million and the total deaths to 177,150.