Oxygen Express loaded with tankers containing medical oxygen at Sanathnagar near Hyderabad (PTI)
NEW DELHI: Faulting the Centre’s oxygen allocation methodology during the recent surge of Covid cases, the Supreme Court on Saturday drew health experts from all over India to set up a jumbo National Task Force (NTF) to devise a scientific formula for rational and equitable allocation of oxygen to states, audit utilisation and suggest means to augment production.
Virtually tasking the NTF to draw an ambitious and futuristic national plan for the health sector, from combating the present pandemic to shoring up rural health infrastructure, a bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah asked the cabinet secretary to be the convenor of the group and said the expert body will, within a week, provide the formula for need-based, dynamic allocation of medical oxygen to states and UTs. A more comprehensive plan, including other aspects of healthcare, will be submitted in six months.
Accepting the Centre’s suggestions for a broad-based expert committee to decide allocation of oxygen to the states, the bench said setting up of NTF became a necessity because of a growing need for “an effective and transparent mechanism” for allocation of oxygen during the Covid-19 pandemic, with the Delhi government complaining loudly that it is not receiving the SC-mandated 700MT of oxygen daily. The bench said the Centre had no option but to maintain a daily supply of 700MT oxygen to the national capital.
Justices Chandrachud and Shah said the NTF is meant to facilitate a public health response based on specialised domain knowledge. “We expect that the leading experts in the country shall associate with the work of the task force, both as members and resource persons. This will facilitate a meeting of minds and the formulation of scientific strategies to deal with an unprecedented human crisis.”
Members of the NTF are Bhabatosh Biswas, ex-VC of West Bengal University of Health Sciences, Kolkata; Devender Singh Rana and Saumitra Rawat, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Delhi; Devi Prasad Shetty, Narayana Healthcare, Bengaluru; Gagandeep Kang and J V Peter, Christian Medical College, Vellore, Tamil Nadu; Naresh Trehan, Medanta, Gurgaon; Rahul Pandit, Fortis Hospital, Mumbai; Shiv Kumar Sarin, Institute of Liver and Biliary Science, Delhi; Dr Zarir F Udwadia, Mumbai; and Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan.
The Justice Chandrachud-led bench gave a six month tenure to the task force, which could be extended. The NTF would also look into streamlining transportation and distribution channels and set up state-wise sub-groups to audit the distribution and utilisation of oxygen rationally.
“The Union government shall continue with the practice of making allocations of oxygen until the task force has submitted its recommendations… The Union government shall, on receipt of the recommendations of the task force, take an appropriate decision,” it ordered.
The NTF’s terms of reference are: “Assess and recommend for the entire country, based on the need for, availability and distribution of medical oxygen; formulate and devise methodology for the allocation to states and UTs on a scientific, rational and equitable basis; recommend augmentation of oxygen supplies based on present and projected demands likely during the pandemic and suggest a mechanism for periodical review.”
The SC tasked the NTF to set up sub-groups within each state and UT for determining: (a) whether supplies allocated by the Union government reach the state/UT concerned, (b) efficacy of distribution networks meant for hospitals, healthcare institutions and others, (c) whether available stocks are being distributed on basis of an effective, transparent and professional mechanism and (d) accountability in regard to utilisation of the supplies of oxygen allocated to each state/UT.
The NTF will also review measures for ensuring availability of essential drugs. “The NTF will plan and adopt remedial measures for ensuring preparedness to meet present and future emergencies,” it said, adding “The task force may consider it appropriate to co-opt or seek the assistance of other experts within or outside the government.”