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COVID-19: ‘We Could make Oxygen on Campus but VC Criminally Silent,’ Say JNU Teachers

The proposal involves converting a Nitrogen extraction machine to an Oxygen extraction machine at its laboratory facility on campus. It is already said to be in action in neighbouring IIT Delhi.
COVID-19: ‘We Could make Oxygen on Campus but VC Criminally Silent,’ Say JNU Teachers

Calling it an approach of "ineptitude", teachers from the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University on Wednesday alleged that while the university is capable of generating Oxygen – much in demand at the moment due to the COVID-19 pandemic – their proposal to do has not been acted upon by JNU VC M. Jagadesh Kumar.

The proposal involves converting a Nitrogen extraction machine into an Oxygen extraction machine at its laboratory facility on campus. It is already said to be in action in the neighbouring Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. However, the proposal by faculty members of the School of Life Sciences has not see the light of day as the VC has been unable to arrive at a decision. 

Despite several rebukes by the Supreme Court and Delhi High Court to the Centre, hospitals in the national capital are still struggling for medical Oxygen. The Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers’ Association (JNUTA) said that the VC has "conveniently ignored" the call for devising a plan to tend to students and residents infected with COVID-19 on campus.

In a statement, Milap Chand Sharma, president of the teachers’ body, said that the faculty of the Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health (CSMCH) had proposed the “creation of a comprehensive COVID care plan for the campus as a whole." The second proposal submitted by the faculty of the School of Life Sciences (SLS) proposed the conversion of a Nitrogen extraction machine to one which would extract Oxygen. "Both these proposals, it may be noted, were submitted to the university administration after consultation with JNUTA and concerned officials of the administration. Yet there is no news about their approval,” he added.

Sharma said they have made repeated requests to the administration for COVID Care facilities on campus by converting the existing guesthouses into isolation centres for residents. "The proposal submitted by the CSMCH faculty provides for a three-tier level of health care on campus. The first is for those undergoing home isolation which will have a COVID telephonic medical counselling facility; second, an isolation centre for patients who need it (confirmed and suspect cases) from JNU, breaking the chain of transmission; and third, a COVID Oxygen Support Unit to provide interim primary COVID care to JNU community members needing oxygen support while arrangements are being made to arrange for a hospital bed. The proposal submitted by SLS seeks to supplement the working of the proposed Oxygen Unit, along with the commitments made by the Delhi Government to supply the same if JNU declares the creation of such a facility within the campus.”

The teachers maintained that the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi has operationalised their facilities for production of oxygen on campus through the same method as was proposed by JNU faculty.

Samudrala Gaurinath, a Professor at the School of Life Sciences, told Newsclick that "we can convert the liquid nitrogen plant in Advanced Instrumentation Research Facility in JNU to an Oxygen plant as described by Prof. Milind Atrey from IIT-Bombay. Generally, liquid Nitrogen plants work through pressure swing adsorption (PSA) technology, where air from the atmosphere is sucked in, filtered for impurities and nitrogen is extracted. The compressed air passes through the carbon molecular sieves or filters that can separate Nitrogen and Oxygen; it is where Oxygen is rejected and Nitrogen is selected for making liquid nitrogen. For selecting Oxygen the carbon molecular sieves are replaced with zeolite molecular sieves that will select Oxygen and reject Nitrogen. With this the Oxygen generated by this plant at the IIT-B lab was tested and found to be 93-96% pure at 3.5 atmospheric pressure.”

Moushumi Basu, Associate Professor at the School of International Studies, said the students of the university have been subjected to "inhumane conditions" at isolation centres run by the Delhi Government. Had the proposal being accepted, they could have been treated on the campus itself.

"Students who test positive on JNU campus are being taken to an isolation centre in Sultanpuri, where the facilities are dire. We have received pictures sent by students of dirty toilets, open garbage cans, unchanged sheets and bedding that show how unhygienic and unsafe the facilities are. I am aware of a family of eight members where a pregnant lady and her daughter are sharing a toilet with other infected family members. If only such isolation facilities had been created in JNU, in guesthouses or make-shift arrangements in the stadium, not just students but other residents as well would have been spared the trouble of living in such unhygienic places outside the campus," she added.

The teachers said that Kumar also did not show any positive response to the offer of a donation of Oxygen concentrators made by a foreign university.

Satyamurti, Professor at School of Sanskrit and Indic studies, died last week after contracting COVID-19. Former professors Alokesh Barua and Ashok Rastogi too have succumbed to the contagion.

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