With several states flagging scarcity of medical oxygen amid a surge in COVID-19 infections, the government is in talks for the import of high-capacity oxygen-carrying tankers from Singapore and the United Arab Emirates and directed states to revive closed oxygen plants for augmenting its production.
The move came after Union Home Minister Amit Shah reviewed the coronavirus situation in the country on Friday, a home ministry statement said.
In separate letters, the Centre asked all states to prepare a list of oxygen producers in their respective jurisdiction and directed them to ensure uninterrupted supply and transport of oxygen in the places where there is a demand.
With a view to make available additional tankers for movement of oxygen, the home ministry is coordinating lifting of high-capacity tankers from abroad, including Singapore and the UAE, by Indian Air Force transport planes, the statement said.
In the review meeting, the home minister suggested various measures to augment the supply of oxygen for medical purposes.
A home ministry expert group is also optimising and rationalising the allocation of oxygen to various states and union territories keeping in view the active cases and to reduce time for movement of medical oxygen, the statement said.
The statement said Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla asked all states and union territories to ensure adequate security to oxygen transporting vehicles and to make provisions for exclusive corridors for transportation, treating these vehicles like ambulances.
The home ministry is also facilitating movement of medical oxygen across the country following an approved allocation plan.
The Indian Air Force has started transporting empty tankers after delivery of oxygen to destination state and union territory to oxygen producing locations to reduce movement time.
In his letter, Bhalla told chief secretaries that oxygen generating plants are available in many districts of the country, not necessarily for medical purposes and these facilities can be used for supplying oxygen to local hospitals.
"I would like to request you to have all such facilities mapped immediately. For this, District Collectors or Deputy Commissioners should be asked to list all the plants in which different types of oxygen is generated, including the ones that can be bottled in cylinders, along with the installed capacity," he said.
Bhalla said in case some of the plants are closed, those should also be listed and necessary action should be taken for their revival. He said these efforts will ensure easy availability of oxygen at the district level, besides supply of medical oxygen from usual channels.
"I would also like to strongly advise that keeping in view the supply constraints, oxygen allocation to various districts and cities need to be rationalised, keeping in view the number of active cases," he said.
The home secretary also urged the states to take immediate actions on the above suggestions and send an action taken report, followed by a status report urgently to the ministry of home affairs.
In another letter, the home secretary said an order has already been issued on free movement of oxygen between the states and not to impose restriction on oxygen manufacturers and suppliers to limit the oxygen supplies to the hospitals of the state or union territory in which they are located.
“However, instances have been reported in some districts from different States and UTs, wherein oxygen carrying vehicles have been stopped. Such instances are not only in violations of the aforesaid MHA Order but also inhibits the timely supply of medical oxygen to the allocated State and UT, and in turn affect treatment of COVID- 19 patients," Bhalla said, asking the states to ensure the timely delivery of oxygen to their destinations.
Bhalla said all our efforts are under way to increase the production and supply of oxygen for medical purposes, and the supply of oxygen has been stopped for industrial purposes except for a few specified industries.
The home secretary also referred to the April 22 directive of the Delhi high court of Delhi to ensure strict compliance on the oxygen allocation order of ministry of health and family welfare.
"I would, therefore, urge you to issue suitable directions, to concerned authorities in your State and UT, to ensure compliance with the MHA order dated April 22 of the directions given by the Hon'ble High Court, and to provide adequate security to oxygen transporting vehicles and to make provisions for exclusive corridors for such transportation, treating these vehicles like ambulances," he said.