State’s Mission 3,000 a failure

As of December, state’s augmenting oxygen production has increased only by 350 MT — that’s a shortfall of nearly 2,000 MT of the required target
As of December, state’s augmenting oxygen production has increased only by 350 MT — that’s a shortfall of nearly 2,000 MT of the required target (AFP via Getty Images)
As of December, state’s augmenting oxygen production has increased only by 350 MT — that’s a shortfall of nearly 2,000 MT of the required target (AFP via Getty Images)
Published on Dec 16, 2021 11:11 PM IST
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Mumbai: As cases peaked during the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, (active cases touched 69,858 on April 22) the state government rolled out Mission Oxygen Swavalamban (self-reliance) in May in a bid to avoid oxygen shortage witnessed in many parts of the country during the second wave. The state set a target of augmenting oxygen production — needed in hospitals to treat severe cases — to 3,000 metric tonnes (MT) a day. In the first phase of the mission, the target was to augment production by 2,300MT within six months and the remaining 700 MT within two years. However, as of December, production has increased only by 350 MT — that’s a shortfall of nearly 2,000 MT of the required target.

At the peak, around 10% of the active patients required oxygen supply and the total oxygen requirement was 1,800 MT a day. At the time, the state’s capacity was 1,300 MT a day, which forced the government to obtain oxygen from other states. This meant a loss of both money to the state exchequer and treatment time; the state also lacked infrastructure to store the oxygen.

With cases of Omicron, the new variant of concern, detected in the state, experts said that self-reliance in oxygen production is the need of the hour. However, in order to reach its first-phase target of 2,300 MT, the state will need another six to seven months. Here’s why: the state hoped to generate 1,700 MT of liquid medical oxygen (LMO) from private industrial units. Till now, it has achieved only 10% or 175 MT of that amount.

“The third wave of the pandemic was predicted in September-October though it has fortunately not hit the state so far. With the emergence of new variant Omicron, a fresh wave may hit Maharashtra in the coming few weeks. If it is driven by Omicron or similar and multi-fold transmissible variant, the number of the active patients is expected to be much bigger. For such a scenario, we had set the target of reaching the production of oxygen to 2,300MT, but could not achieve it as the generation from the LMOs in the private sector is taking longer,” a state official requesting anonymity said.

The current daily capacity of production from all sources (which includes private LMO units and Pressure Swing Adsorption or PSA plants) is 1,650 MT.

(Ashwin Patil)
(Ashwin Patil)

The mission

According to government officials, if the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic hits the state, the projection of the peak active cases is 1,295,211. To cater to this projected number, the state will need a concomitant number of beds and medicines as well as an oxygen supply.

Of the final target of 3000 MT, 10% is expected to come from the local sources like supply through cylinders, while 20% (600 MT) is expected to be generated from PSA plants. In order to achieve this, the government calculated that 529 PSA plants will be needed, which will cumulatively generate 645 MT of oxygen daily. Of these, 423 are government-owned, including 68 funded from the PM Cares and 16 are owned by Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs). The rest of the PSAs are owned by private entities.

At least 366 PSA units have been operationalised which have a cumulative generation of 379 MT a day.

The major quantum of the aspired production will come from LMO units run by private enterprises. The state industries department set a target of 1,700 MT and also rolled out a policy in May to encourage private industry to either expand their existing plants or build new ones. The state cabinet cleared the policy which allowed for tax waivers, incentives on terms of capital grants, and making land available at concessional rates among other things. The state government is expected to bear the burden of 1,100 crore towards these incentives and concessions.

The state government has also decided to set up storage tanks at the district level to ensure that a stock of oxygen supply of three days is at hand. “We have received 200 storage tanks mostly with the capacity of 10 kilolitres from the Emergency Covid Response Fund of the Central government. Major thrust during the emergency is on LMO plants, as the pressure and purity of this form of gas is better,” an official from the public health department said.

Other sources include 200MT from 57 proposed Air Separation Unit (ASUs).

The current status

Six months after it battled to obtain the required quantum during the second wave, the daily production capacity of the O2 is still at 1650MT.

Harshadeep Kamble, development commissioner, industries department said that 30 of 70 units with whom the state signed an agreement have gone into production.

“The 30 plants have started producing 175 MT in addition to the existing installed capacity of 1200 MT. Bigger units would be operational between March and July 2022 as they take a year to go into production. We expect the target to be achieved by then. One of the biggest plants among them is 75MT-capacity plant in Nagpur and another by a leading company in Aurangabad.”

According to an official from the health department, though the state government has given nod to the private players, some of them are wary about the demand-supply gap if the production exceeded the demand. “It requires a huge investment and lot of time to set up the plant. Even though the industries have come forward to set up the plant, they are not sure if there would be demand to the generated oxygen for industrial use after pandemic is over,” an official said.

Kamble said that the industries can sell their excessive production of the oxygen for the industrial use to other states in the country if they have excessive production.

Industries minister Subhash Desai said that they expect the capacity augmentation by 1,700 MT once all the plants are operationalised. “We have signed MoUs with the industries for the generation of the LMO and the projects are at various stages of installation. They have identified/acquired lands, placed orders to import the machinery. Erection of the plants is underway. The production from many of them will begin soon. We have given an incentive of capital grants up to 150% on their actual capital investments and have received good response to the policy,” he said.

Covid scenario

The current oxygen production is around 1,100MT of which 750MT is used by industries and 300 MT is used for the medical use. Even if we augment our capacity, there is no demand for more than 1000 MT including all purposes, said an official from the food and drug administration (FDA).

Dr Avinash Bhondwe, past president, Indian Medical Association said, “The third wave is predicted to hit the state in January. Looking at the transmissibility of Omicron which is 5-6 times more than Delta variant, the active patients number would be too high in the third wave. We however have not been prepared with the health infrastructure. The oxygen production capacity should have been three times or at least 3600MT by now, but we have failed to achieve it. Similar is the case with ramping up of the bed capacity and procurement of medicines.”

Public health minister Rajesh Tope said that the state government is prepared if the third wave struck. “Every hospital at the tehsil level has PSA plant installed with the captive capacity of the generation, which was not in place during the second wave. I am not aware about the status of the LMO plants, but we are in sound position as far as the oxygen production is concerned. We have 3-tier system in place for the oxygen supply by LMO plants, PSA and cylinders. We can always procure oxygen from other states as well in case of the need. There is possibility of the third wave in the month of February, but we are all prepared for it,” he said.


    Surendra P Gangan is Senior Assistant Editor with political bureau of Hindustan Times’ Mumbai Edition. He covers state politics and Maharashtra government’s administrative stories. Reports on the developments in finances, agriculture, social sectors among others.

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