According to industry figures, the pre-Covid demand for liquid medical oxygen (LMO) before the pandemic was 700 tonnes per day across the country. Now, with the second wave, the demand has gone up more than seven times, reports Jyoti Mukul.
The demand for medical oxygen has jumped manifold amid the second wave of Covid, according to industry players who said it is much sought-after since the start of the pandemic last year.
According to industry figures, the pre-Covid demand for liquid medical oxygen (LMO) before the pandemic was 700 tonnes per day (TPD) across the country. During the first wave of Covid-19 last year, the demand for LMO increased four times to 2800 TPD. Further, with the second wave, the demand has gone up more than seven times the pre-Covid levels -- 5000 TPD.
"While we hope that the spike in cases is arrested, the success of oxygen therapy in Covid treatment means that there will be sustained demand for liquid medical oxygen in the months to come," said Siddharth Jain, director, INOX Air Products. His company is meeting more than 60 per cent of the total medical oxygen demand in the country.
The supply of medical oxygen is currently being allocated centrally and monitored by the empowered group, EG II, headed by the secretary in the department for promotion of industry and internal trade, mandated by the Union government. This explains the pressure from states on the Union government, since quotas are allotted by the central committee.
The Delhi government had on Sunday alleged the Centre was diverting from its quota to other states.
The EG II has members nominated from all the states, along with all major oxygen manufactures, All India Industrial Gases Manufacturers’ Association (AIIGMA), Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO), the ministry of road transport, and the Indian Railways. While medical oxygen is not a controlled commodity, the prices are controlled by the National Pharma Pricing Authority.
"In normal times, India had an excess supply of medical oxygen, so there was no restriction on interstate movement earlier. We believe that once the pandemic subsides, there will be no restriction on the movement of LMO," said Jain.
Following criticism of Union Minister of Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal’s remarks asking states to keep oxygen demand in control, his ministry went on a publicity drive to showcase the movement of oxygen by train, though it was a small quantity run on a trial basis to gauge if movement by train is faster than by road.
On Monday, the Railways sent seven empty tanker trains owned by the ministry of defence on a RoRo (roll-on-roll-off) train to Kalamboli goods yard in Navi Mumbai for further movement to Visakhapatnam to fetch medical oxygen for Maharashtra.
A person close to the development said while the Visakhapatnam industrial area had excess oxygen, demand was not high there so it was moved to Maharashtra.
While the government banned the use of oxygen in industrial facilities, except for identified sectors on Sunday, several firms, especially government ones, have diverted oxygen supply for medical purposes. Indian Oil Corporation (Indian Oil), on Monday announced it had started supply of 150 tonnes of oxygen at no cost to various hospitals in Delhi, Haryana, and Punjab.
"In the face of a massive surge in demand for medical oxygen during the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, Indian Oil has diverted the high-purity oxygen used in its Mono Ethylene Glycol (MEG) Unit to produce medical-grade liquid oxygen at its Panipat Refinery & Petrochemical Complex. The throughput of the unit has also been scaled down for a more critical cause," said a statement.
Jain said his firm had been running all units 24x7 to ensure continuous production of medical oxygen to more than 800 hospitals. It has a production capacity of 2,000 TPD, with 25 of its 44 units making it. "Our dedicated fleet of VTS-enabled 550 transport tanks and more than 600 drivers were critical to facilitating the supply of medical oxygen." INOX AP manufactures 3,300 TPD of liquified gases.
Bharat Petroleum also announced the supply of 100 tonnes of oxygen at no cost to various hospitals. Last week, Reliance Industries, too, had decided to divert oxygen from its refinery use for the more urgent medical requirement.
IFFCO announced that its oxygen plant at Kalol would produce 33,000 litres of medical-grade oxygen every day. The company plans to set up three more oxygen plants at Aonla, Phulpur, and Paradeep.
INOX Air Products moved its oxygen by rail on Sunday at the request of the Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh governments. It has tied up with the Railways to run tankers.