Pinarayi Vijayan Facebook
As the second wave of COVID struck India, many of its states continue to stare at the scarcity of medical oxygen supply.
While, Kerala, known for its robust health system, made news headlines for being an oxygen surplus state. Last week, it even went ahead and sold oxygen to neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka as well as Goa. The state dispensation was quick to take the sole credit for the success of the state's oxygen surplus.
On April 21, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan even tweeted, "Kerala is set to tackle 2nd wave of #COVID19. Universal vaccination, specialised hospitals, enough ICUs & ventilators, and adequate O2 supply are essential in this battle. Increased O2 stock/day from 99.39MT in 04/20 to 219MT in 04/21. Hiked production from 50L/min to 1250L/min." (sic)
From the tweet, it might appear that the state machinery was solely engaged in increasing production. But that is far away from the truth.
A closer look at the reasons behind Kerala's success story in ensuring oxygen supply would reveal it was a close-knit work done by the nodal officer for oxygen of The Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organization (PESO), formerly known as the Department of Explosives.
"PESO is the regulator of all compressed gas under Explosives Act and Rules".
"We anticipated this crisis last year on March 23, 2020. We proactively took up-regulation mechanisms," affirms R Venugopal, deputy chief controller of explosives, PESO, nodal officer (medical oxygen monitoring), Kerala & Lakshwadeep.
Interestingly, while the state government was chest-thumping over its astute capacity to produce oxygen, the truth is that majority of the oxygen production and distribution in the state are through privately-owned companies.
For instance, on April 22, the private player INOX produced 447 metric tonne (MT) of oxygen. Following that, 23 privately managed filling plants supplied 85.97 MT. The third highest contribution comes from another private player Praxair that supplied 11 MT. The state-owned PSU Kerala Minerals and Metals limited based in Kollam produced a mere 7 MT.
Realistically, it means the private player controlled and regulated by PESO contributed to 98 per cent of the state's total oxygen production of the day, where clearly, the state plays no role in its production or supply but only a buyer for its state-run medical institutions.
PESO is the sole licensing authority and controls the entire operation, even that of KMML. "My team worked extra hours since last March to ensure this success story for Kerala," said Venugopal with pride.
The team of PESO Kerala first supplied oxygen cylinders to every nook and corner of Kerala and Lakshwadeep. Then, it evaluated transport capacity, bulk tank availability, distances, road condition and security. It then evaluated and sustained and monitored the various installations to aid supply and checked with the installer that they had sufficient medical devices for delivery to various medical institutions.
The nodal officer of the state for oxygen engaged with PESO provided daily data on oxygen consumption and medical data on usage of oxygen in hospitals. With this data, the team at PESO, on a daily basis, diligently gauged the need and regulated the production and supply. "We also had to ensure that the dealers didn't divert the oxygen for industrial use," pointed Venugopal.
The central government has given 3 pressure swing absorption systems (PSA) to Kerala government Medical Colleges at Kottayam, Ernakulam, and Thrissur. The systems are installed but piping and electric panel works are under progress by the respective Medical colleges. Once it is completed, the systems will start providing more oxygen for the state's need.
PESO KERALA, A MODEL FOR OTHER STATES
The data from the state health department combined the continuous monitoring and foresighted approach by PESO ensured oxygen surplus in the state. "The success story of Kerala is due to the teamwork by central and state government along with private companies for a great cause. This should be an example for other states to follow", concluded Venugopal.