Bhopal: An unfulfilled promise by Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to set up a 200 metric tonne oxygen plant in Hoshangabad made on September 10, 2020, is adding to the woes of COVID-19 patients in the state. The CM had then promised the plant would be set up in six months time.
The state faced a sudden shortage of medical oxygen after a private firm in Maharashtra stopped the supply of 20 tonnes of oxygen on September 9 last year. The following day the CM announced that a 200 tonne oxygen plant would be set up in the Mohasa-Babai Industrial Area in Hoshangabad and claimed that it would begin functioning in the next six months.
Seven months after his public announcement, only the boundary walls of the plant have been constructed and the state is again facing a shortage of nearly 100 tonnes of oxygen daily. Dozens of hospitals – government as well as private – in many districts are reportedly facing an acute shortage of oxygen which is leading to the death of COVID-19 patients.
During an event on September 10, the CM had said that an oxygen plant by Inox Air Products Pvt. Ltd. at Babai in Hoshangabad district had been approved at a cost of Rs 125 crore. It would begin manufacturing 200 tonnes of oxygen in six months. Chauhan has once again stressed that there would be no shortage of oxygen in the future.
The following month, the state's cabinet paved the way for the setting up of the biggest industrial oxygen plant in the state and cleared a proposal to provide 40% assistance to Inox for a period of seven years under the Investment Promotion Scheme to run the plant.
Subsequently, the Madhya Pradesh Industrial Development Corporation Limited (MPIDCL) leased 11 acres of land for 99 years to the company to set up the plant on October 27 last year. As per the proposal, the plant would produce 150 metric tonnes of medical oxygen daily.
When asked for an update on the plant, a senior official from the Industrial Department, who wished to remain anonymous, said that such a large plant takes at least four years to begin production. He added that only six months had passed and that the company had enough time left to set it up.
When asked about the CM’s claim that it would begin production in six months following the approval, he replied: “I’m not aware of the announcement, but the Government is fully cooperating with the company and providing all assistance needed to set up the plant within the stipulated time.”
The oxygen crisis in the state led Malvi Hospital, a well-known facility in Hoshangabad, to urge the kin of patients to shift them to another hospital as its oxygen would end in the next three hours. The hospital issued the statement on its letter pad on Thursday, hospital officials confirmed to Newsclick on the phone. Dozens of news reports claimed that patients are dying owing to the shortage of oxygen in Jabalpur, Bhopal, Indore, Ujjain and other places.
As per government officials, the oxygen supply in the state has doubled over the weekend -- from 130 metric tonnes on Thursday to 267 tonnes on Sunday. However, demand has tentatively surged to 400 metric tonnes a day after cases of COVID-19 saw a massive spike over the past week. The latest data says that MP has 55,694 active COVID-19 cases at the moment.
According to official sources, the three biggest private hospitals in Bhopal are also facing a shortage of oxygen. Ashish Goswami, a press officer at Bhopal’s Citi Hospital was sacked after he admitted that six people died owing to the lack of oxygen last week. The hospital had been receiving 30 oxygen cylinders a day instead of the 90 required.
As the oxygen crisis deepened in the state, a delegation of Congress leaders visited the MPIDCL office to enquire about the status of the oxygen plant which had been promised earlier.
Speaking to Newsclick, a member of the delegation and Congress spokesperson, Abbas Hafiz Khan, said: “The officials have informed that the fencing of the allocated land is underway.”
Launching a scathing attack on the CM, Khan further said: “Dealing with COVID-19 was never a priority for the government. In the last one year the BJP government was focusing on winning bye-elections, passing the anti-conversion or 'Love-Jihad' law and forming a cow cabinet. Meanwhile, they shut down designated COVID-19 hospitals and did not extend an MoU with private hospitals to cater to the patients,” he added.
Jaswinder Singh, secretary, CPI(M) said, “Making tall promises and forgetting about them is one of the many qualities of CM Chouhan and he has been doing it for the last 16 to 17 years. But, this time, his lies are killing people”.
Inox officials too said that a massive factory cannot begin operations in just six months and that it would begin production as per the stipulated time given in the contract.
Anil Khamesra, state head, Inox Air Products, told Newsclick, “The work to set up the plant has begun and it will start production as per the stipulated time given in the contract.”
When asked about CM Chouhan’s claim, he replied: “I’m not aware of the CM’s promise, but as per the contract the factory has to start functioning within four years and we will start production before the deadline.”
“We have almost doubled our supply to MP in the last couple of weeks from 65 metric tonnes a day to 160,” he added.
Meanwhile, the CM said on Friday that the Centre has assured him of supplying 450 metric tonnes of oxygen from various plants of Inox, Linde and Steel Authority of India and that the process to bring in those oxygen cylinders is on in full swing.
When Newsclick attempted to speak with P. Narahari, Controller, Food and Medicine Administration, for a comment on the oxygen crisis, he didn't respond to calls or messages despite repeated attempts.