Immediately after the DMK entered office on May 7, it faced the first litmus test: the second wave of COVID-19 going out of hand and a large quantum of liquid medical oxygen required by government hospitals to save the patients.
As the other States faced an oxygen shortage, the Tamil Nadu government formed a task force to draw up a plan to source oxygen from various parts of the country. The task force was headed by Industry Secretary N. Muruganandam and included the then Tangedco Chairman P.K. Bansal, the then Metrowater Executive Director T. Prabhushankar, K. Nanthakumar and several other IAS officials.
The State had a total production capacity of 450 metric tonnes of oxygen, in the private sector, and the large number of COVID-19 cases in the first week of May meant the requirement for liquid medical oxygen went up because over 200 metric tonnes was supplied to other southern States, including Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, Mr. Muruganandam said. The government also foresaw the need for sourcing 200 metric tonnes of oxygen daily from other States. On a letter written by Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, the Union government allotted oxygen from Odisha and West Bengal. A plan was drawn up to transport oxygen from these States by tying up with Southern Railway, the Indian Air Force and private logistics companies.
But the plan ran into a hitch: sourcing oxygen from the eastern corridor required cryogenic tanks, which the State did not have. Mr. Bansal said that when the operation started, the State had neither cryogenic tanks nor tank trucks that were all privately operated. Mr. Bansal got three tank trucks from a private company, thus helping the State and Southern Railway launch the roll-on and roll-off (Ro-Ro) service for faster transport of oxygen. On some occasions, the tank trucks were flown on Indian Air Force planes.
In the meantime, the government received four cryogenic tanks from the Netherlands, which were taken to Kalinganagar in Odisha. These cryogenic tanks, of 20-metric tonne capacity each, helped to bring more oxygen to the State — and at a faster rate. A tank truck could hold only 15 metric tonnes. Even as the empty tanks were going to Rourkela in Odisha, the first cryogenic tanks carrying oxygen landed in Thiruvallur on May 10.
Mr. Bansal said that at one point, 34 cryogenic tanks were bringing oxygen, including 12 purchased by the government from China.
State officials were deputed to places where the oxygen factories were located to thrash out the issues in logistics. IAS officials Manish Narnaware, Nishant Krishna, A. Periyasamy and Abishek Tomar were sent to Maharashtra, Odisha, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh for coordinating with the local authorities.