Tamil Nadu, which was projected as an oxygen-surplus state a few days ago, is already short of medical oxygen for Covid-19 care. With coronavirus cases steadily rising, the shortage of oxygen is likely to intensify in the coming days.
The government’s listed oxygen suppliers are unable to procure the required amount of oxygen for hospitals in respective districts. As demand overshoots supply, production units have begun rationing out their daily production.
Only a week ago, on April 21, citing oxygen-surplus, the Union Health Ministry diverted 45 tonnes of oxygen from Tamil Nadu to Andhra Pradesh and Telangana without notifying the state government. Given that the state was banking on storage, rather than every day production, claims of oxygen-surplus were anyway misplaced.
'OXYGEN SUPPLY LOWER THAN BEFORE COVID'
All India Industrial Gas Manufacturers’ Association (AIIGMA), an autonomous body recognised by the Government of India, is monitoring availability of medical oxygen, transportation and supply across India. AIIGMA has recognised 20 oxygen suppliers for various districts in Tamil Nadu to procure liquid oxygen from production units and supply to hospitals. Newsclick spoke to these suppliers to know the situation on the ground.
The suppliers helplessly inform of the acute shortage of oxygen, even though industrial oxygen supply is almost nil. Some dealers stated that the supply is lower than pre-Covid period.
Ponnuswamy, the oxygen supplier for Erode and Tirupur, said “Till a few days ago, the supply and demand was neck-to-neck, but now we require 7 tonnes of oxygen, but receive only 5 tonnes a day.”
Ganesh, who is a dealer in Trichy, said, “We need 5 tonnes of liquid oxygen, an average of 500 cylinders per day, but we are getting only 10 tonnes a week from Inox Air Products, National Oxygen Pondicherry and SicgilSol combined.”
Theni district’s oxygen supplier Vallal said, “I am buying from Inox; I need 15 tonnes of liquid oxygen a week, but I am getting only 3 to 5 tonnes." He added that he used to supply 40 tonnes of medical oxygen every month before the pandemic, now he was getting only 20 tonnes. “I am not able to supply even the worst affected patients, and I am earning a bad name in this crisis,” he said helplessly.
“I am not able to get liquid oxygen, the company is not providing. Before Covid, I used to supply 30 tonnes of oxygen every month--20 for hospitals and 10 for industry. This month I have received only 10 tonnes in total," said Babu who deals in oxygen for both Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri.
Ganesh, who supplies in Tuticorn, said, “there is a severe shortage of oxygen. This month we were short by 15 to 20 tonnes."
“I received no liquid in the past four days. 1 tonne, that is 350 to 400 cylinders, of oxygen is needed per day. The scheduled liquid is said to reach in two days,” said Vigneshwar, the dealer for Kanyakumari.
Senthil, the dealer for Namakkal, said, “Last week was not so bad, but this week is difficult.” He procures the life-saving gas from National Oxygen in Pondicherry, but the producer has stopped communicating, Senthil said, adding that “all they say is ‘wait, wait’.”
The five dealers listed for Chennai, which has 31,295 of the 1,10,308 active cases in the state, they were too busy to respond to the media.
GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION SOUGHT
The central government has given full responsibility of oxygen production and supply to Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) and AIIGMA. However, with the limited production and rising cases, they are unable to meet the demands. One of the dealers said that the demand from Inox alone is 300 tonnes, but they are able to produce only 150 tonnes a day.
The dealers of AIIGMA have turned to local authorities for intervention.
Ponnuswamy said, “I have informed the District Collector of the situation and urged him to collect oxygen from other production units.”
Babu said the suppliers have submitted a letter to the Collector. Only the government can do something. The company says the Health Secretary has given directions and washed off its hands,” he said.
P Mahi, who supplies oxygen for Salem and Erode, told Newsclick that he was in a meeting with the Collector discussing the oxygen scenario when he was contacted over the phone.
The oxygen dealers feel that unless some measures are taken, the coming week is going to be very difficult.
None of the suppliers mentioned a shortage of cylinders or difficulty in transportation. As industrial supply has almost stopped and sufficient oxygen is not being supplied to them, they have sufficient number cylinders at hand.
With shortage of oxygen and other pressures on the health system, such as shortage of medicines and shrinking beds, Tamil Nadu is likely heading for more restrictions in an attempt to curb spread.
A meeting headed by Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary Rajeev Ranjan was underway on Thursday along with bureaucrats and health officials of six districts where Covid-19 cases are the highest.