With COVID-19 cases coming down in the most affected state of Maharashtra and Gujarat, and medical oxygen availability increasing to 9,200 tonnes a day, the issue of oxygen shortage in the country can be sorted out within a few days, says Siddharth Jain, Director, INOX Air Products, the largest manufacturer of industrial and medical gases in India.
India was producing 7,200 tonnes of oxygen a day and only 15% was required as medical oxygen in the pre-COVID days. Now, industrial consumption has come to zero as the entire capacity has been converted to produce medical oxygen. Even during the peak of the first COVID-19 wave in India, maximum demand was not more than 3,000 tonnes a day. Most of the oxygen manufacturing units are concentrated in the North and East; mainly close to steel plants, the main consumers of oxygen. Total available capacity has been increased to 9,200 tonnes by converting high purity industrial oxygen to medical oxygen within a month, says Jain.
"The main issue was in supply chain as liquid medical oxygen has to be transported in cryogenic tankers, which normally cater to a 200 kilometre radius. With the increased demand even in remote areas, now tankers have to cater to over 1,000 kilometres radius. India had only 1,200 such tankers before the current crisis and permission was given recently to convert another 1,200 nitrogen and argon carrying tankers to transport medical oxygen. Besides, some 40 plus such tankers have been imported. With the point-to-point green corridor 'Oxygen Express' trains shuttling between most affected areas, and with Airforce, Navy helping with the transport, the logistics issues are more or less resolved. Now, we can cater to even remotest areas even if the wave spreads to non-affected states," he says.
INOX is responsible for creating over 75 per cent of the existing medical oxygen infrastructure in India, Jain added during a virtual press conference.
Maharashtra, which has a production capacity of 1,500 tonnes mainly in Mumbai and Pune, has the highest demand. Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh come next. About 25 percent of production is consumed by Maharashtra and Gujarat. Delhi does not have a manufacturing unit and currently INOX supplies 160 tonnes a day, and in total receives about 400-450 tonnes a day. Earlier, companies were supplying medical oxygen directly to hospitals. Now, the Centre monitors production and allocates oxygen to states depending on the number of cases and situation, he said.
INOX Air Products makes about 2,600 tonnes oxygen a day and caters to over 26 states. According to Jain, the capacity has been increased 40 percent in past three years. The company has also announced investment of Rs 2,000 crore to increase capacity in the next few years. It takes about two years to set up a new oxygen plant.
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