The Supreme Court has constituted a 12-member National Task Force to streamline and ensure the “effective and transparent” allocation of liquid medical oxygen on a “scientific, rational and equitable basis” to States and Union Territories fighting COVID-19.
The apex court had expressed its dissatisfaction at the Centre’s earlier “oxygen-for-bed” formula. This “rough-and-ready” arrangement, as the court put it, was based on calculating the allotment of oxygen based on the number of ICU/non-ICU beds. The court, however, said the formula did not take into consideration the fact that many COVID-19 patients in dire need of oxygen do not get beds or were confined to home care.
A Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, in a 24-page order released on Saturday, said the formula should be scrapped and the problem of allocation of oxygen required to be looked into afresh. A new mechanism devised more scientifically should take care of present requirement for oxygen as well as be flexible enough to accommodate “unforeseen demands due to emergencies which may arise within the allocated territories”.
“Different States may peak during different time… their needs for oxygen may vary,” Justice Chandrachud had pointed out.
The court said setting up an expert body or task force “drawn of renowned national experts with diverse experience in health institutions” to function within the Central government apparatus would facilitate a public health response to the pandemic based on scientific and specialised domain knowledge. The court said the decision-makers should go beyond cobbling together ad-hoc solutions based on present problems. They have to prepare for the future. The task force’s work would provide the Centre with inputs and strategies.
“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,” the court explained.
The members of the Task Force are Dr Bhabatosh Biswas, Former Vice-Chancellor, West Bengal University of Health Sciences, Kolkata; Dr. Devender Singh Rana, Chairperson, Board of Management, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Delhi; Dr. Devi Prasad Shetty, Chairperson and Executive Director, Narayana Healthcare, Bengaluru; Dr. Gagandeep Kang, Professor, Christian Medical College, Vellore, Tamil Nadu; Dr J.V. Peter, Director, Christian Medical College, Vellore, Tamil Nadu; Dr Naresh Trehan, Chairperson and Managing Director, Medanta Hospital and Heart Institute, Gurugram; Dr. Rahul Pandit, Director, Critical Care Medicine and ICU, Fortis Hospital, Mulund (Mumbai, Maharashtra) and Kalyan (Maharashtra); Dr. Saumitra Rawat, Chairman & Head, Department of Surgical Gastroenterology and Liver Transplant, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Delhi; Dr. Shiv Kumar Sarin, Senior Professor and Head of Department of Hepatology, Director, Institute of Liver and Biliary Science (ILBS), Delhi; Dr. Zarir F. Udwadia, Consultant Chest Physician, Hinduja Hospital, Breach Candy Hospital and Parsee General Hospital, Mumbai; Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India (ex officio member); and the Convenor of the National Task Force, who shall also be a member, will be the Cabinet Secretary to the Union Government. The Cabinet Secretary may nominate an officer not below the rank of Additional Secretary to depute for him, when necessary.
The Task Force is to start work immediately and has an initial life-span of six months. The court urged the Task Force to take up and determine the “pressing issue” of the modalities of oxygen within a week.
Public health institutions, government facilities and private hospitals have to cooperate with the Task Force. It could form sub-groups of experts on a regional basis in the specialised areas of Infectious Disease Modelling, Critical Care, Clinical Virology/Immunology and Epidemiology/Public health.
The Force is free to draw human resources from various designated governmental sources, including a member of Niti Aayog to be nominated by the Vice-Chairperson; Secretary, Ministry of Human Affairs; Secretary, Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade; Secretary, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways; Director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi; Director General, Indian Council of Medical Research, New Delhi; Director General of Health Services; Director General, National Informatics Centre; and Head, Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC).
The primary term of reference of the Task Force set out by the court includes to assess and recommend the availability and distribution of medical oxygen across the country, formulate a methodology for its equitable distribution, recommend ways to augment the oxygen supply based on present and projected demands, facilitate audits on whether supply is reaching its destination in States, efficacy of distribution networks, transparent distribution of available oxygen stocks, among others.
The audits in States would be done by sub-groups or committees comprising a Secretary to the State Government, an Additional/Joint Secretary to the Central government, two medical doctors in the State/UT concerned including at least one with administrative experience of managing the medical facilities of a hospital; a Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation representative.
For Delhi, the audit sub-group would consist of Dr. Randeep Guleria, Professor and Head, Department of Pulmonary Medicine and Sleep, AIIMS; Dr. Sandeep Budhiraja, Clinical Director & Director – Internal Medicine, Max Healthcare; and an IAS officer, each from the Union Government and GNCTD, not below the rank of Joint Secretary.