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TN govt urges Centre to stop diversion of oxygen

Chennai: Chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami on Sunday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking immediate cancellation of 80 KL (kilolitre) of liquid oxygen being diverted from the Sriperumbudur manufacturing plant in Tamil Nadu to Andhra Pradesh and Telangana
By Divya Chandrababu
PUBLISHED ON APR 26, 2021 12:30 AM IST

Chennai: Chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami on Sunday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking immediate cancellation of 80 KL (kilolitre) of liquid oxygen being diverted from the Sriperumbudur manufacturing plant in Tamil Nadu to Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

The Tamil Nadu government said that since a high number of patients are dependent on oxygen, the state would soon require 450 MT of oxygen surpassing its daily production capacity of 400 MT. As per data from the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO), the consumption of oxygen in Tamil Nadu has reached 310 MT, the letter stated.

Palaniswami also said the latest central medical oxygen allocation for Tamil Nadu is incorrectly fixed at 220 MT. ‘...based on this wrong allotment, 80 MT of liquid oxygen has been diverted. This is based on the wrong position that the existing oxygen consumption in Tamil Nadu is lower than the manufacturing capacity.”

Palaniswami pointed out that Tamil Nadu’s active cases were higher than those of the two Telugu-speaking states and that there is “no justification” for diversion since this plant supplies oxygen to Chennai, which is the worst affected in the state. As compared to the maximum number of active cases -- 58,000 during the previous surge in 2020 -- the active caseload has already increased to over 100,000 this time, he said. As of April 24, Tamil Nadu reported 14,842 new cases taking the total to 1,066,329, of which 100,668 are active cases. Chennai accounts for the highest caseload in the state with 4,086 fresh cases.

“The states to which the allotment has been made have (a) lower number of active cases than us and also have major steel industries located within their states (or) close to their states,” he said. “This needs to be immediately corrected. While Tamil Nadu has never imposed any restrictions so far and is always ready to support other states, such mandatory diversion of liquid oxygen from the needs of our state can lead to (a) major crisis in Chennai and other districts.”

On Saturday, the state set up a round-the-clock helpline, 104, specifically to address oxygen shortage in hospitals and nursing homes. A green corridor along with police security would be provided for tankers carrying oxygen.

“Currently we are taking supplies from four vendors in Tamil Nadu and also from Puducherry with a combined capacity of 370 MT,” said P Umanath, director, Tamil Nadu Medical Services Corporation (TNMSC). He had earlier said that the state would raise this issue of mandatory diversion with the Centre so that it doesn’t create problems in the future.

Last Thursday, the state government had informed the Madras high court that there was no shortage of oxygen, adding that the 65 tonnes of oxygen being diverted wouldn’t affect the state. Tamil Nadu has a storage capacity of 1167 tonnes. As of Thursday, the government said only 250 tonnes was being used for Covid-19 treatment. Additionally, Puducherry has a production capacity of 150 tonnes. The submissions were made after the HC had taken suo motu cognizance that the Centre had diverted oxygen to other states without the consent of Tamil Nadu and on the issue of shortage of Remdesivir drug. The matter has been adjourned to Monday; the state is expected to submit more data on availability of hospital beds, oxygen, and vaccines.

On Monday, the state will also file its affidavit in the Supreme Court in response to Vedanta’s petition to reopen the Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi for medical oxygen production. After months of protests led by locals and activists, the state had in 2018 shut down the plant for environmental violations. A public consultation was conducted by Thoothukudi district collector Senthil Raj on Friday where people opposed re-opening of the plant.

“The consultation was held only regarding the re-opening of the oxygen plant and the smelter and thermal plants would remain shut, but a majority were still against it,” said Raj. Besides environmental concerns, local residents opposed the move because on the 100th day of the protest, police had opened fire in which 13 civilians were killed in May 2018. The case is being probed by the CBI and by a one-woman retired justice Aruna Jagadeesan committee. The top court had earlier rejected Vedanta’s plea to re-open its facility for administrative purposes.

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