India is currently experiencing shortages of oxygen and cylinders as coronavirus cases in the country continue to rise with 300,000 infections and 3,000 deaths per day.
Uttam Karan Bhatia, CEO of Uttam Group of Companies, told gasworld the company currently has 40 oxygen plants installed in hospitals in India, where they are generating their own oxygen.
“The one option for people is to buy, the other is to generate it themselves,” Bhatia told gasworld.
“We enable hospitals to generate their own options, so they are not dependent on someone else. It has come to a point now where there’s a national crisis, and they are scrambling for oxygen available. The hospitals that we supply products to, they are still self-dependent and they’re generating their own oxygen. My team today is working to ensure that these 40 plants that are installed are all working and there’s no stoppage.”
Uttam, which manufactures high pressure lightweight gas cylinders and allied equipment with locations in India and US, is also importing vital oxygen equipment to boost availability.
Uttam has confirmed to gasworld it will import 55 oxygen generators to India over the next 30 days. Uttam’s estimate is that the arrival will be phased out, probably every 10 days over the scope of a month.
Of the 55, 23 are coming from Germany for the Indian Army, 21 are for the Delhi Government and 11 are for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
“UNDP is buying 11 plants and giving them as a gift to the hospitals, governmental hospitals, in a certain part of the country,” Bhatia said.
Demand for oxygen cylinders has soared to unprecedented levels as patients have been told to find oxygen for themselves. This has sent the prices of cylinders soaring in places like Delhi.
Uttam, which has headquarters in New Delhi and recently announced the purchase of California, US-based Catalina Composites to form Uttam Composites, has observed shortages of oxygen cylinders and it is adapting its operations to try and improve availability by importing from its facilities in the UK and US.
“We have an acute shortage of oxygen cylinders in India, we have a global shortage of oxygen cylinders right now,” Bhatia said.
“It’s not just in India. We are trying to make it adequately enough to feed this immediate requirement. We are also trying to airlift product from our other suppliers, which are based out of the UK, or from the US. We are also airlifting additional cylinders which you’re not able to manufacture in India, we are airlifting from our partner companies.”
Bhatia has been working with the Indian Government to coordinate distribution.
“As a cylinder manufacturer, we are now geared up in order to supply as many tanks, or oxygen tanks, as are required,” Bhatia said.
“Whatever we can do, we are working overtime to ensure that we’re able to make and deliver these fully functional tanks to the customers. In addition to that, I’ll be working closely with the Government of India. We made an entire oxygen plan of how oxygen will move from one place to the other place. We identified Covid centres, and then those Covid centres were tied up to oxygen plants in the vicinity. So, we did the mapping for them of which hospital will be supplied from where, and this is what the government follows.”
Bhatia added, “There are certain states that are oxygen-deficient, there are certain states that are oxygen-surplus. They are moving product from the oxygen-surplus states to the oxygen-deficient states. This is either by road, or coming by air, or coming by sea.”
One of the problems behind the oxygen shortages is what Bhatia refers to as “oxygen politics”.
“The oxygen-generating plants are normally attached to larger steel plants, or some other plants which are heavy industries, which are outside the bigger cities of bigger states,” Bhatia said.
“So there’s this situation between the states where state A is run by political party A and state B is run by political party B, so they are now playing oxygen politics. They say: we don’t want to give product out to you because we need it for ourselves. Because, politically it would become a hot potato for them if they would allow oxygen to move from their state to the other state. To address this, the central government is now coming in with the Emergency Management Act which by they are invoking that under the National Disaster Management Act they will now declare oxygen tanks as ambulances, and they’re also being provided police escort. In fact, outside our factories we have the subdivision magistrate police monitoring that no product is being sold to the industry, that everything is going to go to medical. And they are ensuring that people who need the oxygen get it, the end users get it, and it’s not hoarders or trailers who come and hoard it trying to make a quick buck. So the government has placed these people in all the places.”