‘Logistics, not deficit’: What govt told courts on O2 crisis
- According to the Centre, from April 29, the projected demand for all states was 8707 MT per day.
Does India have enough oxygen? Does Delhi? Plaintive cries from hospital administrators and individuals, as well as reports of deaths of critically ill patients on account of lack of oxygen (most recently in Chamrajnagar, Karnataka) suggest the answer to the questions is “No”. Yet, the Union government has consistently maintained before constitutional courts that the country and Delhi both have enough oxygen and there is no deficit at all.
There are three aspects to the question, though: production and stock; demand and supply; and logistics. HT tries to look at each on the basis of information from the Centre’s affidavits before the Supreme Court and the Delhi high court in public interest litigations .
First , production and stock.
The production capacity for liquid oxygen was 8,788 MT per day, the Centre said on April 28.
In addition, as on that day, there was 19,871 metric ton (MT) of liquid medical oxygen available. That excluded the liquid oxygen with steel plants (major producers of the chemical), a further 16,000 MT of liquid oxygen as on 21 April . And finally, there is another 2850 MT of liquid oxygen with manufacturers not attached to the steel plants, taking the gross quantity of liquid oxygen available to in excess of 38,000 MT.
Second, demand and supply.
According to the Centre, from April 29, the projected demand for all states was 8707 MT per day. On April 28, while the production capacity was 8,788 MT per day, 7,479 MT of oxygen was supplied to various states. This is a contentious point, though. The Delhi government has insisted that it does not get as much oxygen as it needs. Delhi’s own estimate is that it needs 700 MT a day. The Centre’s allocation to it is 490 MT a day (increased to 700 MT a day from Tuesday, according to a Supreme Court order on Sunday). But the Delhi government has said it receives lesser oxygen -- it received 409 MT on Thursday, 312 MT on Friday, 454 MT on Saturday, and 448 MT on Sunday. Delhi also claimed last week in the high court that while other states were getting almost as much as they asked for, or even more in some cases, Delhi was the only one to get much lesser.
That explains the cries for help, but there’s the third aspect as well.
The major suppliers for both industrial and medical oxygen are steel plants in the public and private sectors, besides private entities. However, there are only a few states that are oxygen producing, such as Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Jharkhand; others need to ship their oxygen in.
The Union government’s position before the courts is that its role was limited to procurement and allocation of medical oxygen to each state but that it is the state governments’ absolute responsibility to arrange transportation to pick up their allotted quantity from the supply point using cryogenic tankers.
The ministry of home affairs constituted an Empowered Group-II (EG-II) as an inter-ministerial body to ensure availability of essential medical equipment and oxygen management, which has carried out a mapping exercise to connect sources of supplies with the demand of medical oxygen to the critically affected states.
The requirement of oxygen for each state is ascertained on the basis of the doubling rate of active cases, which refers to the number of days in which Covid cases are likely to double.
These projections change on a daily basis, explained the Centre through its affidavits. It added that a virtual central control room has also been created to monitor demand and supply of oxygen on a real time basis.
According to the Centre, Delhi, Rajasthan, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh, faced challenges despite this allocation owing to logistical bottlenecks and incidents of local authorities disrupting supplies (or oxygen producing states not allowing supplies). But the biggest impediment, as per the Centre, remains the geographical location of the supply points. The high concentration of oxygen is in steel plants located on the eastern side of the country (Odisha, West Bengal) whereas the demand is mostly from the West (Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan), North (UP, Delhi, Haryana, Punjab) and central part of India (MP, Chhatisgarh). This has resulted in heavy pressure on the handful facilities in the North such as those in Panipat, Modinagar and Bhiwadi.
Following the mapping exercise, the Centre said, a judicious mix of road, rail and air routes have been arranged. A supply point in Jharkhand’s Jamshedpur has been mapped to Delhi, UP, Haryana and Bihar while Bhilai in Chhatisgarh has been mapped to MP.
Trains (Oxygen Express) are also being used to carry oxygen. Air routes are being used to carry empty containers to the supply points, as per the government’s affidavits. Liquid oxygen containers cannot be transported by air. However, in order to carry oxygen, the states must have the tankers of their own and only industrialised states such as Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand and West Bengal have them in sufficient quantity. Delhi has only 19 oxygen tankers, leading to a crisis as regards carrying the oxygen from the points of procurement.
On April 30, the Central government submitted in the Supreme Court that the chief reason for shortage of oxygen in the capital was the inability of the Delhi government to lift the allocated quantity of oxygen from the supply point for want of enough tankers.
But the top court did not find favour with this contention and told the Centre that lives of citizens cannot be put in jeopardy in the battle of shifting responsibility of supplying or off-taking of oxygen.
The Centre has to submit its compliance by May 10 when the Supreme Court will hear the suo motu (on its own motion) case again.