New Delhi, May 08, 2021: The Supreme Court on Saturday constituted a 12-member national task force that would be tasked with formulating a methodology for the "scientific allocation of medical oxygen" to states and Union Territories (UTs) during the pandemic.Issuing the order, a bench of Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice MR Shah said this taskforce would be at liberty to draw upon the human resources of the Union government for consultation and information. It would also be free to formulate its modalities and procedure for working.
The rationale for constituting a task force at the national level is to facilitate a public health response to the pandemic based on scientific and specialised knowledge, it said.
The Supreme Court order comes at a time when hospitals in several states have been complaining of shortage of oxygen for weeks. The state governments have been accusing the Centre of not providing them with sufficient oxygen to handle the Covid-19 situation.
In its order, the court said that during the course of hearing, a consensus has emerged that there is a need to ensure that the allotments of medical oxygen to states and UTs is made on a scientific, rational and equitable basis. It added that at the same time, it must allow for flexibility to meet unforeseen demands due to emergencies which may arise within the allocated territories.
The court said some deficiencies in regard to the basis and methodology adopted by the Centre in distribution of oxygen have already been flagged earlier.
"The court suggested that an expert body drawn of renowned national experts with diverse experience in health institutions can be considered for being set up as a national task force, which will provide a public heath response to the pandemic on the basis of a scientific approach. The Solicitor General informed the court that the Union government has responded favourably to the suggestion," the order said.
It added that it’s necessary that an "effective and transparent mechanism" is set up to ensure allocating medical oxygen to all states and UTs during the pandemic, and that the Centre has agreed to setting up a national task force to "streamline the process".
The court said the national task force may constitute one or more sub-groups on specialised areas or regions for assisting it, before finalising its recommendations. The task force may also consider it appropriate to co-opt or seek the assistance of other experts within or outside government to facilitate its working.
The Centre and state governments "shall provide complete and real time data" for facilitating the work of the task force as and when necessary.
The court said, "All private hospitals and other healthcare institutions shall co-operate with the task force 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."
It added that setting up a national task force will enable the decision makers to have inputs which go beyond finding ad-hoc solutions to the present problems.
"This will ensure that projected future requirements can be scientifically mapped in the present and may be modulated in the light of experiences gained. The establishment of the task force will provide the Union government with inputs and strategies for meeting the challenges of the pandemic on a transparent and professional basis, in the present and in the future," the court order said.
The tenure of the task force will of six months initially. The Centre has been asked to provide all necessary assistance to the task force and nominate two nodal officers to facilitate its work.
The nodal officers will also be responsible for arranging logistics, including communication with members and arranging the virtual meetings, of the task force.
12 members of the national task force
* 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 JV 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 and 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.