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Its tankers unfit for ‘Oxygen Express’, Punjab takes road route to transport O2

While pulling all stops to transport oxygen in a speedy manner from Bokaro steel city, Punjab government is faced with a peculiar problem as majority of its tankers — 14 out of 15 available — are not being allowed on the ‘Oxygen Express’ for not meeting the height standards. As a result, the Punjab-bound tankers are being forced to take the road route which is taking them 3 days to reach the state instead of 30 hours by train.

With limited resources, Punjab government is not being able to avail “90 metric tonnes of daily oxygen quota” from Bokaro allocated to the state by the Centre.

Out of the 15 oxygen tankers that the state has, only one has been found to make it to ‘Oxygen Express’, with its height meeting the ceiling cap of 3.5 metres, The Indian Express has learnt.

After the railways refused to carry the oxygen tankers airlifted from Punjab to Jharkhand on ‘Oxygen Express’ citing height issue, the Punjab government went in for to “double check” the height measurements from legal meteorology department.

However, after the exercise, it was found that only one tanker was good enough to be permitted on ‘Oxygen Express’.

The height parameters by the railways have been fixed factoring in height of the tunnels, and the bridges on rail route.

From April 28, Punjab has airlifted two such tankers daily by the Indian Air Force to Jharkhand.

However, after being denied transportation through ‘Oxygen Express’ due to height issue, the tankers full of oxygen from Bokaro took the road route with police escort. Punjab government also requested for “green corridor” for smooth road transportation.

The first batch of two oxygen tankers was airlifted to Jharkhand on April 28, and two tankers are being despatched via air route to Jharkhand daily since then.

According Punjab Industries Director Sibin C, it took about three days for the tankers to reach Punjab from Bokaro after completion of all formalities there. The transportation through ‘Oxygen Express’ would have enabled to reach the tankers filled with oxygen to the state in about 30 hours, Sibin added.

Punjab Principal Secretary Industries and Commerce Alok Shekhar told The Indian Express that the state government was in process of getting two additional oxygen tankers following parleys with the Centre government, but those two tankers would also be “bigger in capacity”, exceeding the 3.5 metre height norms for ‘Oxygen Express’.

Shekhar said that “the Centre has allocated 90 metric tonnes quota of oxygen for Punjab from Bokaro. We have been able to avail 30 to 40 metric tonnes of oxygen on an average daily”.

He said that the tankers airlifted to Bokaro were of private players who had been earlier supplying oxygen across the state, including to government facilities.

Shekhar said, “We have only 15 oxygen tankers and there is three day backlog in a tanker reaching Punjab from Bokaro through road route after landing in Ranchi from Punjab, making about a four hour journey to Bokaro, filling, completing the paperwork and starting journey back to Punjab.”

He said that the tankers bringing oxygen from Bokaro were being operated by private players and the state government was coordinating in terms of requirement of the gas in particular areas.

As per a “status note on the activities of the Industries and Commerce Department” during Covid resurgence, Punjab government set up a control room deputing special officers entrusted with various verticals including getting quota released from outside supply and coordination with source plan, increasing the production of atmospheric separation units (ASUs) within the state, allocation of the supply to the required districts as per directions from health department and tracking the movement of the vehicles and coordination with the gas agencies.

As per the note, the Industries and Investment departments in dialogue with old ASUs in the state, after having dialogues with them, had been so far successful in starting the production of at least six units, thereby enhancing the production of medical oxygen by 14 metric tonnes.

Out of the 14 units, the department contacted, while six have already started production, identical number of units are likely to start re-energising their oxygen plants between a week to six months. Two units, one in Amritsar and another in Bathinda, have not been found feasible to produce oxygen. The Punjab Industry Department is also engaging with industries at district level to provide empty cylinders lying with them to hand over to the respective district for effective use to fill and use for medical purposes. Out of total 7,138 such cylinders available across the 22 districts of the state, 4,090 have already been provided to respective administrations by Saturday morning and another 604 were ready to be delivered, as per the official statistics.

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