Weeks after the second Covid-19 wave led to a surge in demand for medical oxygen, an infrastructure of oxygen plants, deep inside districts and remote locations, is fast emerging across states.
The Centre is aiming at 1500 such plants by August-end, more or less translating to two such plants in every district of the country, officials said.
The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) was entrusted the task of building the civil infrastructure (the rooms) for the plants, and two other agencies, the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) and National Buildings Construction Corporation (NBCC), too were brought in for the works.
The money has been sanctioned from the PM-CARES Fund and there is scope for additional sanction for laying pipelines from the oxygen plants to hospitals
Equipping district hospitals with their own oxygen-generation plants is integral to the Empowered Group’s plan and this will go a long way in battling any other wave of the pandemic should that arrive. In the long-term plan, every district has to be equipped with hospitals getting oxygen from their own plants.
“All stakeholders have been deployed to get the job done. We expect it to be complete by August-end. We have even spoken to the Air Force for transporting the plants to remote locations wherever needed,” Giridhar Aramane, head of the Empowered Group and Secretary, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, told The Indian Express.
The NHAI has completed works for setting up 125 Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA) oxygen plants across the country.
Works are in progress at another 121 sites. In 270 locations, the process of identifying land too is in progress, according to official data.
According to NHAI, Gujarat is leading with 14 works for oxygen plants already completed, six under construction and tentative identification of 18 other locations – it will eventually have 38 such plants.
Work has been completed at 13 locations each in Andhra Pradesh and Haryana.
In Bihar, work is in progress at 29 locations while it has been completed at five sites. The state has identified a few more locations. When complete, Bihar will have a web of 36 such plants.
Maharashtra, among the worst hit by the pandemic, is likely to have 41 such plants.
So far, seven are ready, and work is in progress at another seven locations. The state government is finalising 27 other locations.
Delhi does not have any plans lined up for these plants. Officials said being the Capital, its hospitals already have oxygen plants.
The progress is fast, depending on the swiftness with which states provide land.
In West Bengal, for instance, only three works have been completed so far and no other site has been identified yet by the state government.
Kerala, on the other hand, has already got five plants while works are being completed at four more places. The state has identified another five locations where work will begin.
Rajasthan will have a total of 19 such plants, seven of which stand completed. Punjab has already got works for 11 plants completed.
Tamil Nadu has identified 25 locations. Apart from these, work has been completed in nine locations and is being completed at another five.
In Karnataka, work has been completed in two locations while it is underway at six locations. The state is in the process of identifying another 25 locations.
According to the government’s plan, the NHAI is responsible for making room for the plants — civil works and electricals — while the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is installing the actual plants along with partner agencies.
An estimated 581 such plants are to be set up under this model and the infrastructure for most will be developed by the highway makers with a footprint across the country for civil and electrical works.
According to the NHAI, once the land is handed over to them, it takes around 15 days to erect the structure.
Each site is around 10×7 feet, so it can house the oxygen generator.
The idea is to get NHAI contractors, already working on projects near the sites, to get the work done.
Officials said around Rs 15 lakh is expected to be spent at each site on the civil and electrical works done by the NHAI.