The second wave of the coronavirus pandemic has left many states grappling with essential health infrastructure. From a shortage of oxygen to ventilators to critical drugs, states are working in tandem with the Centre to rebuild the state health infrastructure to tackle the surge in cases at the earliest. Amidst several initiatives by the Centre, the Railway Ministry has assured aid by running ‘Oxygen Express’ trains for the quick transportation of liquid medical oxygen and oxygen cylinders across the country after several states reported a shortage.
On the 18th of April, just 5 days ago, the Railway Ministry had issued a press release to share the details. According to the statement, empty tankers were set to begin their journey from Kalamboli and Boisar railway stations near Mumbai on 19th April to load liquid medical oxygen from Vizag, Jamshedpur, Rourkela and Bokaro.
On the morning of 24th April, NDTV journalist Saket Upadhyay took to Twitter to say that he refuses to be an Oxygen Express ‘cheerleader’ because the entire excise, he believed, was a PR stunt.
Sorry for not being the Oxygen Express cheer leader on twitter. The train has been reduced to a PR exercise which seems to be failing in its purpose. Left Mumbai on 19th April at 8.05pm-reached Vizag on 22nd April at 4.15 am. Will get back with the returning times in a moment.— Sanket Upadhyay (@sanket) April 24, 2021
He said that one Oxygen Express left Mumbai on the 19th of April at 8:05 PM and reached Vizag on the 22nd of April at 4:15 AM. The insinuation was that the Oxygen Express was not serving its purpose because it was an extremely slow exercise.
Per Saket Upadhyay’s tweet, the Oxygen Express took a little over 2 days to reach Vizag from Mumbai and for him, that was a little too slow. While people are dying, any help that is to travel across the country could certainly seem slow, however, if Saket Upadhyay was indeed a journalist, he would have tried to communicate the exact facts rather than make insinuations with conjectures, playing on the sentiments of the masses. It is pertinent to note that the oxygen express is not the only measure taken by the government to tackle the oxygen shortage in the country in these trying times.
The truth is that the Railways’ Oxygen Express seems to be travelling as fast as it possibly can.
According to sources in the Ministry, the break up of the time taken for the train to reach from Mumbai to Vizag is far less than the time it would take for an Oxygen tanker to cover the same distance.
While an oxygen truck can only be on the road for 11 hours a day and reach from Mumbai to Vizag in 72 hours, the oxygen train can travel for 24 hours a day and reach the destination in 48 hours.
It is to be noted that the main issue facing India today is that of last-mile delivery more than that of oxygen shortage. For example, Jindal Steel and Power took to Twitter on the 21st of April that they had more than 500 tonnes of liquid oxygen at their Angul plant, however, no means to transport the same.
We have always stood with the nation in times of need and will continue to support the nation in all possible ways in this war against the pandemic. For JSPL, it is always Nation First. Jai Hind🇮🇳— JINDAL STEEL & POWER (@JSPLCorporate) April 21, 2021
“We are waiting for the users to send their tankers”, they tweeted. Now, since transportation through the road is slower and NDTV certainly does not have any means to send tankers that can transport the oxygen faster than trains, one has to be realistic and evaluate the facts accordingly.
Currently, two Oxygen Express’ have completed their journey, this, in a span of 2 days. The first Oxygen Express ran from Maharashtra to Vizag. Then, once the train reached Vizag, Oxygen was filled from Vizag. The Oxygen Express then dropped tankers while coming back to Nagpur and the journey terminated at Nasik.
The second Oxygen Express ran from Lucknow to Bokaro. Oxygen was then filled at Bokaro and the train dropped tanker en route at Varanasi and then terminated at Lucknow with remaining tankers.
The third Oxygen Express has already started from Lucknow and is en-route to Bokaro to get oxygen filled.
It also has to be kept in mind that the Oxygen Express is not the only solution being deployed by the government of India to tackle the oxygen shortage in the face of rising COVID-19 cases.
Only 2 days ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was at the helm of a high-level meeting in order to tackle the issue of declining oxygen supply across the country. The officials at the meeting informed the PM about the efforts undertaken to improve oxygen supply, in addition to discussing ways to help boost its availability.
In the meeting, the officials noted that over the last few days, availability of Liquid Medical Oxygen in India has increased by about 3,300 MT per day with contributions from private and public steel plants, industries, oxygen manufacturers as well as through prohibition of supply of oxygen for non-essential industries.
Order passed by Union Health Secretary
In light of the high-level meeting chaired by the PM, an order was passedsubsequently in order to secure and boost the supply of Medical Liquid Oxygen in India. Here are some of the highlights from the order:-
- No restrictions on the movement of Medical Oxygen between the States to be imposed. Transport authorities shall be instructed accordingly to allow free inter-state movement of oxygen-carrying vehicles.
- No restrictions to be imposed on oxygen manufacturers and suppliers to limit their supply to only the one state or UT they are located in.
- Free movement of oxygen-carrying vehicles in the cities, without any restrictions of timings.
- Supply of oxygen for industrial purposes except those exempted by the Government is prohibited till further orders