India’s left-leaning media writes headlines that generate a lot of buzz, but they can often hide more than they reveal.
The Print yesterday published an article about a massive oxygen plant that was coming over from Germany. “Germany sending ‘massive’ oxygen plant, 12 army paramedics to operate it, envoy Lindner says,” the story’s headline said. “The next airlift from Germany will be of the massive oxygen generating plant, which will produce 4,00,000 litres of oxygen per day and thus will save thousands of lives,” The Print quoted as the German ambassador as saying.
The news of this ‘massive plant’ reaching India generated quite a bit of interest. “Best news ever. Hope customs etc refrain from holding it up. This is what India needs right now,” wrote a Twitter user.
Some others called the giant oxygen plant a Brahmastra. “Bramhastra for Oxygen problem. Please get one plant for Bangalore on War Footing,” wrote another user.
But no one seemed to ask exactly how many people this ‘massive’ plant could serve. Twitter user Ashish Chandorkar then stepped in and crunched some numbers.
“We recently got a 4,00,000 litre oxygen plant in foreign aid from Germany. There has been a lot of talk about this plant. India of course remain grateful to all the friendly countries standing with us now,” he wrote.
He said that at a pressure of 10 litres per minute, a patient would require 14,400 liters of oxygen in a day, and at 60 liters per minute a patient would require 86,400 liters per day. As such, the 4 lakh liters per day plant would help 28 patients per day at a pressure of 10 liters per minute, and just 5 patients at a pressure of 60 liters per minute. “Unfortunately in Delhi, the per capita requirement has been high – high flow 60Lpm support,” he wrote, indicating that in all probability, the massive plant was going to help only 5 patients per day.
Chandorkar then contrasted these numbers with the production of oxygen from a typical plant, and showed that a plant that produced only 1 MT of liquid oxygen was twice as large as the ‘massive’ plant that was coming in from Germany. India has been producing 7500 MT of oxygen per day over the last few weeks, and that was equivalent to 15,000 ‘massive’ German plants.
Chandorkar then used his thread to speak of developing India’s internal capacities. “If we had greater industrial capacity, if there was broad support for labour reforms, if states helped notify the four labour codes, had we focused on land / tax reforms. The old Nehruvian socialist consensus blocking factor market reforms isn’t helpful. Specifically, liquid oxygen is produced to support industries in many sectors. More industrialization would automatically boost the “essential for essential” commodities like these, which then could have been useful today. But we aren’t there. Land, labour, tax reforms over the last few years have been opposed tooth and nail. Forget specific Aatmanirbhar Bharat vision, just natural move towards industrialization itself could make India better equipped to deal with tail events like the one world faces since 2020,” he wrote.
Now The Print isn’t exactly known for the scientific prowess of its staff — just recently, its National Editor Jyoti Malhotra had been trolled for not knowing that drugs like Remdesivir came under the Ministry of Chemicals, and in a previous video, she’d indicated that she thought that 1 million meant one lakh. So might’ve been too much to expect their team to try to calculate how many people the massive plant was going to help, but the viral twitter thread did end up showing that the truth can often be a lot more complex than what clickbaity headlines try to convey.