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HELPING HANDS

How India Inc is stepping up to fight the oxygen crisis in the country

REUTERS/Amit Dave
Oxygen shortage.
  • Niharika Sharma
By Niharika Sharma

Reporter

Published Last updated on

On April 21, when Max Healthcare went to Delhi high court with an urgent plea to get oxygen supply for its hospitals that had almost exhausted their reserves, the judge snubbed the Narendra Modi government saying, “Ask Mr Tata. He’ll be willing to help.”

About a week since then, even as the country’s government has pretty much failed to find concrete solutions, the 150-year-old Tata Group is not the only corporation stepping forward to help. From diverting oxygen from their factories to helping mobilise the supply of oxygen concentrators or simply providing medical support to their staff, many big and small companies in India have come forward to help those affected by the ferocious second wave of Covid-19.

This help is a respite at a time when hospitals across India are running out of supplies and sending out SOS messages on social media almost on a daily basis. The situation has become so grim that on April 24, around 20 patients died at Delhi’s Jaipur Golden Hospital as the facility ran out of oxygen supply.

Tatas and Ambanis

On April 20, even before the court suggested the government seek Tata’s help, the salt-to-software major Tata Group announced it would import 24 cylinders of liquid oxygen to help combat the crisis in the country. The first set of four such cylinders arrived in India on April 24 from Singapore, the group said on social media.

TWITTER/SCREENSHOT

The group’s subsidiary Tata Steel is also diverting oxygen to several states. “Responding to the national urgency, we’re supplying 200-300 metric tons of liquid medical oxygen daily to various State governments & hospitals,” Tata Steel said in a tweet on April 20.

Similarly, Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries has tweaked manufacturing at its Jamnagar oil refinery to produce over 700 tons of medical-grade oxygen daily which the company says is being supplied to several states free of cost.

Proving their mettle

A bunch of leading steelmakers in the country are diverting the industrial oxygen used at their plants to hospitals. Oxygen is used in steel-making, and so factories that produce the metal often have oxygen plants.

Steelmaker JSW Steel is supplying 400 tons of medical oxygen to Karnataka from its Ballari plant, the company has said. It is planning to increase oxygen production at its three plants in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Maharastra to 600 tons per day to supply it to severely affected states.

Another major steelmaker, Jindal Steel and Power, on April 21 said that it has around 500 tons of oxygen available at its plant but is waiting for “users to send their tankers.”

TWITTER/SCREENSHOT

Meanwhile, the state-owned Steel Authority of India (SAIL) has so far supplied around 35,000 tons of oxygen from its plants in Bokaro, Bhilai, Burnpur, Durgapur, and Rourkela to support hospitals treating Covid-19 patients.

Large corporate houses aren’t the only ones coming forward.

Startups step up

On April 24, delivery startup Delhivery said it is flying charters in India to airlift oxygen concentrators. The company’s CEO Sahil Barua sought collaborators to execute this plan.

LinkedIn
Screenshot of Sahil Barua’s LinkedIn post.

Food tech firm Zomato responded to Barua’s appeal and the duo announced an initiative called “Help Save My India,” under which the firms are raising around Rs50 crore ($7.516 million) for sourcing oxygen concentrators and other medical supplies.

SCREENSHOT/TWITTER

Travel portal EaseMyTrip’s co-founder Rikant Pitti also offered to import 150 oxygen concentrators into India and sought logistics help for the same.

SCREENSHOT/TWITTER

A bunch of startups based in Gurugram near New Delhi has launched an initiative called “Mission Oxygen” to import oxygen concentrators. The group has already procured 500 concentrators from China, which will be made available to hospitals by April 28.

Meanwhile, on April 20, Paytm founder and CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma said his company was in the process of buying home medical equipment to help its staff. “Due to surge of Covid in our colleagues’ families, we at Paytm have decided to buy home medical equipment like oxygen concentrators that can be used by teammate’s families & community,” he said in a tweet.

Flying oxygen

Domestic airline SpiceJet’s cargo unit, SpiceXpress, on April 24 said it had airlifted 800 oxygen concentrators from Hong Kong for emergency use and distribution across India.

“We have transported a record 88,802 kg of Covid vaccine shipment with a total dosage of 34 million Covid vaccines between Jan. 12-April 12, 2021 and our efforts will only grow stronger from here,” Ajay Singh, chairman and managing director of SpiceJet said in a press release.

Another domestic airline Vistara, a joint venture between Tata Group and Singapore Airlines, have offered to fly doctors and nurses representing government organisations, free of cost.

Twitter Account of Ministry of Civil Aviation
Vistara’s letter to offer free travel to doctors and nurses working with the state-owned hospitals.

So much for #boycottChina

The leading smartphone market, Xiaomi, which has faced intense criticism over the last year due to its Chinese origin, on April 22 said it has pledged around Rs3 crore ($400,371) to procure more than 1,000 oxygen concentrators for hospitals across states in the country.

SCREENSHOT/ TWITTER

NRIs to the rescue

Today (April 26),  Microsoft’s Indian-origin CEO Satya Nadella promised to aid relief efforts to India. “I am heartbroken by the current situation in India,” he said in a tweet.

SCREENSHOT/ TWITTER

On April 25, Indian-American billionaire businessman and founder of Khosla Ventures, Vinod Khosla had said he is willing to fund hospitals in India that need to import oxygen. He has also appealed to hospitals and NGOs in the country to reach out to him for the help required.

SCREENSHOT/ TWITTER

A long list of challenges

Despite the good intentions and all the effort, there are several bottlenecks that are making it hard for India Inc to reach those in need.

For instance, on April 20, RC Bhargava, an automobile industry veteran and chairman of Maruti Suzuki, said that his firm last year had collaborated with vendors and produced ventilators. But a year later, the machines are still lying with the vendors as the government never procured them.

“People worked overtime to get these ventilators made and changes were made to meet the requirements of the medical profession and now 500 odd ventilators are still lying in stock,” he told The Economic Times newspaper. Bhargava’s statement comes at a time when Indian social media is flooded with cut-wrenching requests and appeals from friends and family members of patients who are unable to find hospital beds with ventilators.

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