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It was ‘India in action’ during the O2 crisis: Oxygen-empowered group convener | India News


After fighting a tough second wave battle when the demand for medical oxygen increased exponentially, the country is preparing to meet any such challenges in the future by increasing the capacity to accelerate the production and transport of medical oxygen. Empowered Group Oxygen and Road Transport Coordinator and Highway Secretary Giridhar Aramane spoke to TOI about the plans.
While the number of Covid cases has decreased in urban areas, there are concerns related to rural areas and we must be prepared for the future. What is the government’s plan?
The supply of medical oxygen has been a very sensitive subject. The government has thought a lot when deciding how to ensure that all patients receive all medical supplies, including oxygen. That is why an empowered group was formed and the government granted all the powers to procure oxygen without delay. So the first task was to increase the supply.
Fundamental economic law says that when supply increases, automatically the clamor for hoarding will diminish. The government concentrated on ensuring the availability of an adequate quantity and several measures were taken. The first was to run all the liquid oxygen plants at their maximum capacity. Second, capacity was increased through technical improvements; Like some manufacturers, they made some short-term improvements in technology and led to an increase in production of 5-10%. In the last year one or two plants were launched.
Reliance Industries’ capacity increased from 300 to 1,000 tons per day. The other important thing was to operate all these plants at their maximum capacity. They produced between 25% and 30% above their real capacity. The third important measure was that the government realized that some areas do not have oxygen plants. So, under the PM Cares fund, 162 PSA plants were sanctioned.
So far we have installed 102 of them and the rest will be installed and going live in the next month. Another 1,051 PES plants from the PM Cares fund have been approved. Therefore, each district will get at least one and some will get more than one.
This entire system will create the capacity to generate another 2,500 tons of medical oxygen. Some major companies are manufacturing these plants. Our total capacity after the installation of these plants will amount to around 12,500 tonnes per day, which was just around 6,000 tonnes last year.
What is the plan to meet the demands in rural areas?
Rural areas also need medical oxygen and we have to supply it in another way. We cannot put such PSA plants in health centers with 50 beds or 30 beds. There, we will have to supply ourselves by cylinders. Last year, the government purchased around 7 lakh cylinders and distributed them throughout the country. The total cylinder available has increased from 4.5 lakhs to 11 lakhs in the last year. An additional 1.27 lakh is being distributed to states and orders have been placed for an additional 1.5 lakh of cylinders. In addition to cylinders, the government is also procuring mild and moderate patient oxygen concentrators with funding from PM Cares. This will be useful in smaller locations.
There are some inputs that private hospitals are not willing to put PSA plants for certain interests. How is the government dealing with this?
My information is that even private hospitals are very interested in having these plants because they have realized that in a crisis having some internal capacity will help, if not 500 beds. Large hospitals can have at least these plants to meet ICU requirements that will ensure that they have emergency supply. So in a way that will ensure an increase in availability and also reduce the need for transportation and logistics. What the government has done is to create a supply system for the PSA plants as well. So, we have enabled large manufacturers in the country that will be able to supply a large number of PSA plants in short terms. Private hospitals can also buy them at a lower cost and obtain better quality. We have also tied maintenance and companies will maintain them.
So is this some kind of permanent solution? Will this help us prepare for any future crisis?
This will be a permanent solution. Once all these PSA plants are installed, there won’t be such a big problem with the demand for medical oxygen.
How did you handle the crisis when all states were demanding more medical oxygen and amid various accusations?
In a crisis, India reacts as one. The Prime Minister met with the CMs and all the officers; the cabinet secretary held review meetings with the top secretaries of state. One night I called the Chief Secretary of Maharashtra to send a tanker to Goa and he willingly sent it. Similarly, the Karntaka themselves were in serious condition at one point, but when we asked them to drop off tanker trucks for Maharashtra and Telnagana, they happily did so. When we asked Kerala’s chief secretary to share some oxygen with Tamil Nadu, even when they weren’t receiving their full quota, the state government handed over part of their quota to Tamil Nadu. He was an Indian in action and there was no center-state problem.
How was the response from states like Odisha, West Bengal and Jharkhand, since most of the medical oxygen came from these states?
They were very supportive. Ultimately, everyone realizes that either we survive as a nation or we will all die together: we will swim or sink together. All states know it.
Was it a 24×7 operation for the empowered group during the crisis?
Yes, we were alert 24×7. In one day, there were 2,000-3,000 messages. There were more messages and alerts from Delhi, Rajasthan, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Goa. We continue to receive messages throughout the night. The entire logistics chain was experiencing problems, from the behavior of the plant manager to the police stopping the tank trucks, the unavailability of a driver for another tank truck, the delay in some parts of some states to return the containers and the need to organize planes to lift empty tanker trucks. All members of the main group and subgroups were available at all times. The Home Secretary and the Cabinet Secretary were the last to go to bed. I don’t think they even slept April 21-30. We received calls and messages from them at 12.30 am, 1.30 am and even at 2.30 am.
Have you ever faced such a crisis in your career?
The scale of this crisis is much larger. In 1989, I was faced with a major cyclone that hit a coastal district in Andhra Pradesh. I was very young and was stationed there as Tehsildar. We had to carry out relief and rehabilitation work for 15 days. I didn’t sleep for 15 days. This time there was no mobile.

Times of India