There are barely 900 odd tankers that supply liquid oxygen, argon and nitrogen across India. Of these, only 350 to 400 tankers supply liquid oxygen. Now, the state government has urged tankers to ferry medical oxygen. This comes at a time when Maharashtra has been producing 1,200 metric tonnes of liquid oxygen per day, which the government expects will touch 1,500 to 1,600 metric tonnes soon.
These tankers are very expensive and there are very limited manufacturers of these specialised tankers. Sources from the tanker association claim that the government has not given permission to all to manufacture these specialised tankers. The smaller tankers that cost around Rs 30 lakh to Rs 32 lakh each can carry 5 to 6 metric tonnes of liquid oxygen. The huge tankers cost Rs 72 lakh to Rs 75 lakh per vehicle and can carry 28 to 30 metric tonnes of liquid oxygen.
“The number of tankers carrying the liquid form of gases are less than 1,000 across the country. Of these, only 50 per cent of them carry the liquid form of oxygen. These tankers when full are not permitted to run at a speed of over 40 kmph to 45 kmph. An empty tanker is not permitted to go beyond 70 kmph,” said a member of the tanker association.
Sources said that liquid oxygen is filled at a pressure of 2000 bar per square inch (PSI) in these tankers, which has to be monitored carefully. “We need to ensure that this liquified oxygen is stored at -150 degrees in these tankers, for which a special paper-like material is fitted inside to maintain it. A barrier of mild steel is also there inside the tanker to prevent leakage in case the vehicle topples. All these factors make these tankers special,” said a member of All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC).
These require drivers and mechanics who have to undergo 15 days of training to drive these tankers as well as operate the valves. The transfer into the tanks of hospitals also takes time, as the pressure has to be monitored and changed accordingly. On April 13, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray stated that the medical infrastructure in the state was under stress and Maharashtra needed oxygen to treat COVID-19 patients. Thackeray has requested the central government to provide the Air Force to supply oxygen.