GUWAHATI, Aug 30 - Despite reminders from the Central government, the Assam government has failed to clear the dues of medical gas suppliers.
A day after Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma indicated that the State could face a shortage of medical oxygen given the growing demand for COVID-19 patients suppliers told this newspaper that some of them have been not paid since last year.
While one supplier said his outstanding amount could be over Rs 1.5 crore, another said he has not being paid Rs 3 crore. In most of the cases, the last payment to the suppliers was made in March last year.
There are around five main vendors who supply medical gases to the health institutions.
�We have information that other states like West Bengal have cleared the bills of the suppliers till July this year. In view of the pandemic, the Union Health Ministry has reminded the State government to make regular payments, but nothing is happening here,� another vendor said.
The issue was raised at a video conference held under the directions of the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry among the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) nodal officer, All India Industrial Gases Manufacturer's Association president, AIIGMA coordinator and medical oxygen manufacturers ten days ago.
The suppliers raised the issue of delay of payments from hospitals for oxygen cylinders supply, sources said, adding that �the PESO nodal officer taking note of the issue, assured the concerned members that the payment issue will be taken up with the authorities and requested the members not to stop supply of oxygen cylinders even in case of delayed payments.�
It is learnt that manufacturing units of some suppliers have been even slapped power disconnection notice by the APDCL for failure to clear outstanding electricity bills amounting to several lakhs of rupees.
While the State government says it is exploring options to import oxygen in case the demand rises, the issue of non-payment is a regular affair here since the last few years.
After the payments were held back for over a year, the suppliers had threatened to cut off supply on at least two occasions earlier.
�If the payments are made regularly, we can equip ourselves and ramp up production to meet the growing demand,� one of the vendors said.
Currently there are 433 COVID-19 patients on oxygen support, according to data provided by the Health Minister yesterday.
The total oxygen requirement now, including for non-Covid patients, is 25 metric tonnes daily, while the companies in the State produce around 37.86 metric tonnes.