On May 5, the Union government issued an order with a supply plan to deliver liquid medical oxygen to 11 states and two union territories. The order was issued factoring in the rising demand from the states for liquid medical oxygen due to rising COVID-19 cases. However, the oxygen allocated to certain states falls woefully short of their demands.
For example, the Centreâ€™s supply plan allocates a total of 223 metric tonnes of liquid medical oxygen to Kerala. On the same day, May 5, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had written to the Prime Minister urgently requesting 1,000 tonnes of liquid medical oxygen to be sent to the state to meet its rising demand. Kerala has the second highest caseload of COVID-19 in India currently.
In Karnataka, the oxygen crisis is more serious. However, the oxygen supply now allocated to Karnataka is 965 tonnes per day, which is 827 tonnes short of the stateâ€™s daily demand.
On May 4, Chief Secretary P Ravi Kumar had confirmed to TNM that Karnataka does not have enough medical oxygen for its patients.
â€śThe medical oxygen allotted earlier to us was 300 tonnes per day. It was increased to 865 tonnes but we will need 1,792 tonnes per day, and we have informed the Union government,â€ť Ravi Kumar had told TNM.
The Chief Secretaryâ€™s statement came in the backdrop of 24 patients passing away in Chamarajanagar Institute of Medical Sciences (CIMS) due to low medical oxygen supply. Many hospitals in Karnataka had also alerted authorities about their dwindling oxygen supply.
Taking cognisance of the 24 deaths, the Karnataka High Court too asked the Centre to urgently supply oxygen to the state.
A bench led by Karnataka Chief Justice AS Oka asked the Union government, â€śDo you want more people to die? If your process is defective, we are not interested in your process. We are interested in oxygenâ€ť. This was in response to the Union government advocate who sought more time to put on record regarding allocating more oxygen to the state.
For Andhra Pradesh, the Centre has allocated 500 tonnes per day. The stateâ€™s per day demand of liquid medical oxygen is 540 metric tonnes.
â€śYesterday, May 5, the supplies were slightly less due to some technical issues at producer plants. However, we are trying to stabilise it today,â€ť says IAS officer Shan Mohan Sagili, who has been deputed to manage the oxygen supply control room in the state.
Moreover, the supply plan released by the National Health Mission makes no mention of Tamil Nadu, which has reported an oxygen shortage. On May 5, 13 patients died in the Chengalpattu Government Hospital after oxygen supply was disrupted due to poor pressure in the hospital's oxygen tank.
On April 25, Tamil Naduâ€™s former Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswamy had written to the Union government asking for 80 tonnes of liquid medical oxygen diverted from a plant in Sriperumbudur to Andhra Pradesh and Telangana to be stopped immediately.
As on April 25, the stateâ€™s per day oxygen manufacturing capacity was 400 metric tonnes. The Chief Minister argued that the Centreâ€™s allocation of oxygen at 225 metric tonne to Tamil Nadu was incorrect, and that the state will soon outgrow its in house production with a projected demand of 45 metric tonnes per day. He added that diverting oxygen would lead to a crisis in Chennai and other districts.
The supply plan includes oxygen allocation to Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Kerala, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Goa, Odisha, Union Territories of Puducherry and Jammu and Kashmir. It is unclear whether the National Health Mission will issue another plan allocating a second tranche of oxygen to other states facing a scarcity.
Meanwhile, the Madras High Court is hearing a case on May 6 regarding oxygen management in Tamil Nadu. The court has asked when the Vedanta Sterlite plant in the state will begin production of oxygen as it had received permission to be reopened one week ago. The HC also asked the Centre to clarify on reports that foreign aid to combat COVID-19 in India was stuck at airports.
â€śSuch aid includes oxygenators which help in generating oxygen. If you could just please find out about that," the Madras High Court Chief Justice asked the Additional Solicitor General appearing for the Union government.