Younten Tshedup

Efforts are underway to help India as the country suffers critical oxygen shortages amid a devastating surge in Covid-19 cases, according to officials.

The government will expedite the works to complete the oxygen production plant at Motanga Industrial Park in Samdrupjongkhar to support the demands of the neighbouring Indian states.

Sources from the foreign ministry said that the Motanga-based SD Cryogenic Gases Pvt Ltd, which is an FDI company could not be completed due to the ongoing pandemic. 

Once completed, the factory will produce liquid oxygen and nitrogen to address domestic and international needs.

He said that the government was exploring ways to facilitate and expedite the works at the plant and complete it as early as possible. “With India struggling with the shortage of medical oxygen, we want to explore all measures to help them as early as possible.”

It was learnt that the physical progress at the plant was around 15 percent and currently some 15 Bhutanese and three expatriate workers were constructing the plant.

Although the country today has two medical and industrial oxygen producing plants in Gelephu and Phuentsholing, they do not produce liquid oxygen. For oxygen to be exported, the general requirement is that it should be in the liquid stage. However, for shorter distances, it could be supplied in gas state stored in cylinders.     

The Medical & Industrial Gas Manufacturing unit, in Gelephu produces around 150 cylinders of medical and industrial oxygen today. It supplies mostly to the regional referral hospital in Gelephu and basic health units in nearby areas.

Officials from the unit said that given the limited market, the plant is currently functioning at 30 percent of full capacity. However, should there be a need, an official said that the plant is willing to donate 200 to 300 cylinders to India.

Aha Oxy Gases Pvt Ltd based in Pasakha, Phuentsholing also produces medical and industrial gases (oxygen). The plant is currently functioning at around 65 percent of the plant capacity.

General manager Udai Kumar Poudyel said that the plant produces around 140 cylinders of oxygen in an eight-hour cycle daily. He said that although the gas is primarily used by industries, they can produce and supply extra medical oxygen if cylinders are made available. “We currently provide only oxygen refills.”

Another plant in Pasakha, Quality Gases Pvt Ltd, produces liquid oxygen and nitrogen. However, given the limited capacity of the plant, the production is only enough for domestic consumption.

An official from the company said that the plan produces about 300 litres of liquid oxygen and nitrogen every hour. The plant is functioning at around 50 percent of the capacity today.

The official said that if the plant can run at 100 percent capacity it can spare a few hundred litres for export. However, maintenance challenges and issues with the import of spare parts was a major challenge, he added.

Given the current lockdown in Phuentsholing and non-availability of specific spare parts have limited the production capacity of the plant.

In the meantime, Assam’s Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on April 25 said that his government had made arrangements for import of medical-use oxygen from Bhutan.

According to media reports the minister said, “Regarding oxygen, we have moved ahead. There is a new plant being set up in Bhutan. Today, we have made arrangements to procure oxygen from there.”

Foreign ministry officials said that if the authorities in India approach the government, the existing plants should be able to supply around 200 cylinders daily.