The Assam government on Wednesday announced free power supply to encourage setting up of new oxygen plants as well as revival of the closed ones to avert any shortage of the live-saving gas amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The decisions were taken during the second cabinet meeting of the new BJP-led coalition government headed by chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. The government also announced relief to existing oxygen plants and those planning expansion.
“In case of expansion of existing plant, the new unit would be given free power. All existing oxygen plants would be given 20 per cent free power. All these decisions would come into effect from January 1, 2021, but financial implications would be from April 1, 2021,” Sarma tweeted.
Industry sources said the decisions will not only help enhance the production capacity to fight the challenge posed by Covid-19 but will also help Assam in its efforts to become the oxygen hub of the Northeast.
The demand for medical oxygen has gone up with the increase in Covid-19 cases in Assam and the Northeast.
On Tuesday, Assam registered 5,835 fresh Covid-19 cases, taking the active caseload to 46,393, and 73 deaths due to the virus. The number of positive cases and deaths have been soaring alarmingly since mid-April.
Assam’s oxygen production capacity has gone up to 80 metric tonnes a day against the daily requirement of 70MT in the past one month. The central government has allocated 100MT oxygen to the state which would be transported by a dedicated train.
Apart from fulfiling its own requirement, Assam is helping Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Nagaland by providing oxygen supply, Sarma had said on Monday.
In a videoconference with his Meghalaya counterpart Conrad Sangma on Tuesday, Sarma had said that Assam was ready to become the medical oxygen hub for the Northeast. Both the chief ministers agreed Assam shall serve the whole Northeast as the medical oxygen hub with optimum utilisation of its storage and transportation facilities.
Sarma said Assam will collect liquid oxygen from production units outside the region and store it in facilities present in the state, from where all other northeastern states can take oxygen according to their need.
Assam has been supplying 12-16MT of medical oxygen daily to Meghalaya.
Sarma has requested Sangma to ensure smooth transportation of goods and passenger vehicles from the Brahmaputra Valley to Barak Valley through Meghalaya, which has over 5,000 active cases with several areas under lockdown.
Those associated with the medical oxygen sector told The Telegraph that it will take about Rs 5 crore to set up a new 7MT plant with cylinders, which takes up a huge part of the investment.
“A well-run plant in Assam will have a power bill of anywhere between Rs 8 lakh and Rs 10 lakh,” one of them said.
Industries minister Chandramohan Patowary appreciated the “help” provided to the sector in a “challenging” time. “Decision of the cabinet to provide free power to oxygen industries will enable them to enhance capacity & productivity to fight against #COVID19,” he tweeted.