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How Bihar is trying to be self-reliant in medical oxygen supply

Oxygen Cylinder Manufacturing

With the second Covid wave exposing the inadequacies of the existing medical infrastructure, besides the logistical challenges in even transporting the medical oxygen allotted by the Centre, the Nitish Kumar government has mooted a policy to achieve self-reliance when it comes to Bihar’s oxygen requirements.

Bihar, on April 30, became the first state to have come out with its own Oxygen Production Policy. Nitish approved the oxygen policy scripted by industry minister Shahnawaz Hussain, which was initially not even on the cabinet’s agenda that day. Both Nitish and Hussain obviously knew that anything related to oxygen just could not have waited for another day.

Hussain’s industry department has promised to provide financial assistance for establishing oxygen manufacturing units in the state keeping in mind future health challenges. “The idea is to make Bihar self-reliant in the production of oxygen,” he told India Today.

Hussain is also holding talks with potential investors to communicate how Bihar plans to promote, facilitate and incentivise investment in medical and industrial oxygen manufacturing units. Those who attended a virtual discussion held in Patna on May 17included Aditya Kumar, a Gujarat-based professional who runs a company that deals with water conservation, besides other things. He told INDIA TODAY that availability of oxygen is a must even in the post-Covid era given that air pollution has caused many health hazards in cities—a problem that can be addressed through medical oxygen concentrators.

Bihar’s Oxygen Production Policy 2021 provides for 30 per cent capital subsidy to an entrepreneur for establishing plant and machinery, with the maximum assistance pegged at Rs 25 crore for cryogenic oxygen plants producing liquid medical oxygen. Those setting up plants for oxygen cylinder manufacturing will get assistance up to Rs 75 crore.

Assistance will be available for investors setting up plants for liquid medical oxygen generation, oxygen storage tanks, cylinder manufacturing plants, manufacturing of oxygen concentrators and auxiliary devices as well as oxygen logistics units.

“Those willing to avail these incentives will be required to submit Stage-1 application and also apply for financial clearance latest by September 31, 2021. This policy will remain in operation till March 31, 2025,” said Hussain.

However, even before investors have set foot in Bihar, the state has augmented its oxygen generation capacity. While Bihar had only 11 oxygen refilling plants, supplying just 16 MT of liquid medical oxygen in April, a month later as many as 23 plants have been made functional and the current supply level has reached 200 MT.

Hussain has been credited with ramping up the oxygen production within a month. He says the existing plants were producing below their capacity or weren’t operational owing to various issues, including financial bottlenecks. Hussain took up the issues of these individual plants with various authorities, including financial institutions, to make them functional again.

The ongoing Covid crisis initially saw Bihar seeking a daily oxygen quota from the Centre. Beginning with a daily grant of 164 MT of liquid oxygen, the Centre has raised Bihar’s quota to 400 MT per day. Bihar also had to approach the Jharkhand government and the Indian Oil Corporation to borrow special tankers to transport the allotted medical oxygen. Having learnt its lesson, the state now wants to be on its own when it comes to oxygen requirement.

Though oxygen supply has largely stabilised in Bihar now, in April, many hospitals were found struggling to maintain adequate supply as the Covid wave intensified and scores of patients required oxygen support. Now, given the apprehensions of a third wave, Bihar looks hopeful that its oxygen policy will help plug the gap between demand and supply of medical oxygen.

Source: India Today

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