Understanding India's Oxygen Crisis: A Detailed Analysis

Understanding India's Oxygen Crisis: A Detailed Analysis

The second wave of the Covid-19 has certainly left the infected patients in India to gasp for breath as the country’s oxygen crisis deepen with each passing day. Several states all over the country are facing an acute shortage of medical oxygen. Although India has suffered an oxygen shortage amid a rapid surge in positive about seven months back, this scenario is much worse. Generally, the healthcare facilities use about 15 percent of the total oxygen supply as the remaining are utilised by the industries. But, in the current situation close to 90 percent of the nation’s oxygen supply that counts to 7,500 metric tonnes has been diverted for medical purpose, states a senior health official, Rajesh Bhushan.

This number is three times higher than that was utilised every day even at the peak of the first wave of Covid-19 in mid-September last year. However, to address the issue various modes have been opted to shift large quantities of medical oxygen to hospitals across the states that are battling the second wave of Covid-19. Presently, the most crucial issue for scarcity in oxygen supply is not able to reach the hospital beds in the need of the hour. But, the location where the production units are located has delayed the supply time of the oxygen. Alongside, a stretched distribution network, as well as bad planning, has hindered the timely oxygen supply to the hospitals. Various hospitals in the nation’s capital have no significant oxygen production capacity and are made frantic public calls last week to get emergency supplies.

Presently, as the Covid-19 cases engulfing Delhi’s neighbouring states such as Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana, the oxygen amenities there are stretched to their maximum in a measure to meet the rising demands in the local area. As the requirement escalates across various states of India. The burning issue has knocked on the door of the Supreme Court which indeed has given a judgement to the centre to Beg, Borrow or Steal but address the oxygen crises as we can’t let people die. And also ordered the industries to support healthcare by providing the required oxygen supply. Thus, several industries are coming forward and

Is India’s Current Oxygen Production Insufficient?

Generally, India produces a minimum of 7,100 tonnes of oxygen on a daily basis. This includes the industrial use that seems to be pretty much sufficient to address the current requirement. However, last week, the centre has allocated close to 6,822 tonnes of liquid oxygen a day for about

20 of the country’s worst-affected states across the country. India has a daily production capacity of at least 7,100 tonnes of oxygen, including for industrial use, which appears to be enough to meet current demand. However, as of April 12, India's total medical oxygen demand was just 3,842 tonnes, but, gradually the surge in cases intensified.

The States are typically earmarked supplies by an inter-ministerial group of bureaucrats and made compulsory to monitor and help the flow of quintessential medical kit during this pandemic. The PM's office has also observed that the availability of liquid medical oxygen had raised by nearly 3,300 tonnes in the past few days, as the steel plants and other industrial units diverting their production.

What Delayed the Supply?

The source from where Delhi would now get the oxygen is spread across seven Indian states, along with some places that are over 1,000 km (625 miles) away. The hazardous nature of the substance, all liquid oxygen has to be moved in a limited number of specialised tankers that need requiring

Planning to get guaranteed deliveries to be made on time, says a gas industry. However, lately, as the inadequacy of oxygen among states is deteriorating, the local officials in certain areas have meddled the movement of tankers in an effort to retain the supplies for themselves.

Such hindrance and blockades have resulted in Delhi receiving only about 177 tonnes of oxygen on Wednesday however, its allocation being 378 tonnes, according to an official.

According to industry sources, Delhi had also all set make planning, without factoring in the time it takes to transport oxygen cross-country by road. However, the sources state that this issue wouldn't have occurred if the action has been taken about 2-3 week prior. 

Measures India Opting to Counter this Crisis

The increasing oxygen crisis has indeed alarmed the central government to initiate the Indian railways to take up multiple tankers from refilling plants to the most needed region. Working with industrial gas major Linde India and others, the government is also utilising the Air Force's cargo planes to fly empty tankers to production hubs. And the Refilled oxygen tankers would then take the road transportation to move back. 

The armed forces are acquiring nearly 23 mobile oxygen generation plants from Germany.

And various other industries are also coming forward to supply oxygen to hospitals. Alongside, India’s prestigious conglomerate Tata The group is importing 24 specialised containers to transport liquid oxygen.

Furthermore, the government has sent orders to transform argon and nitrogen tankers into oxygen ones. However, some experts forecast that with a tripling of regular infections in a few weeks, India may have to intensely ramp up both its oxygen production as well as distribution systems.

Still, if the country continues to see a swell up in the Covid-19 cases, the oxygen shortage could be suffered by the other states as well. Lately, India recorded close to 3,00,000 Covid-19 cases and more than 2,000 deaths. These numbers mark the highest record made by India since the pandemic outbreak in 2020.

On the other hand, logistical problem in moving oxygen has also turned to be a major issue for organizations that produce liquid oxygen. The constant availability of cryogenic tankers is certainly necessary to move the liquid oxygen and it is difficult that many hospitals are undergoing shortage at the same time. The need of the hour is to produce more cryogenic tanks, but, experts claim that it could take up to four months for it. 

The health ministry says,  “Out of 162 PSA plants sanctioned by the union government, 33 have already been installed - five 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 Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Haryana, Kerala, Maharashtra, Puducherry, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh.”