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Oxygen shortage: SC sets up 12-member national task force, audit sub-groups in each state, union territory (Updated with order)

A bench of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice M.R. Shah has said, the rationale for constituting a Task Force at a national level is to facilitate a public health response to the pandemic based on scientific and specialised domain knowledge.

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The Supreme Court has set up a twelve-member National Task Force for formulating a methodology for the scientific allocation of oxygen to the states and union territories.

The Top Court has further directed “the Union Government and State Governments, Ministries, agencies and departments to provide complete and real time data for facilitating the work of the Task Force as and when necessary. All private hospitals and other health care institutions shall co-operate with the Task Force.”

The bench of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice M.R. Shah said the rationale for constituting a Task Force at a national level is to facilitate a public health response to the pandemic based on scientific and specialized 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. The establishment of this Task Force will enable the decision makers to have inputs which go beyond finding ad-hoc solutions to the present problems,” it said.

The Court further said that 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 future. Bearing this in mind, we presently frame the following terms of reference for the Task Force.

(i) Assess and make recommendations for the entire country based on the need for, availability and distribution of medical oxygen;
(ii) Formulate and devise the methodology for the allocation of medical oxygen to the States and UTs on a scientific, rational and equitable basis;
(iii) Make recommendations on augmenting the available supplies of oxygen based on present and projected demands likely during the pandemic;
(iv) Make recommendations for the periodical review and revision of allocations based on the stage and impact of the pandemic;
(v) Facilitate audits by sub-groups within each State and UT inter alia for determining:
(a) whether the supplies allocated by the Union Government reach the concerned State/UT;
(b) the efficacy of the distribution networks in distributing supplies meant for hospitals, health care institutions and others;
(c) whether the available stocks are being distributed on the basis of an effective, transparent and professional mechanism; and
(d) accountability in regard to the utilisation of the supplies of oxygen allocated to each State/UT;
(vi) Review and suggest measures necessary for ensuring the availability of essential drugs and medicines;
(vii) Plan and adopt remedial measures for ensuring preparedness to meet present and future emergencies which may arise during the pandemic;
(viii) Facilitate the use of technology to ensure that the available manpower is optimised for implementing innovative solutions particularly in order to provide an outreach of expert medical care to rural areas;
(ix) Suggest measures to augment the availability of trained doctors, nurses and para-medical staff including by the creation of suitable incentives;
(x) Promote evidence based research to enhance effective responses to the pandemic;
(xi) Facilitate the sharing of best practices across the nation to promote knowledge about the management of the pandemic and treatment of cases; and
(xii) Generally, to make recommendations in regard to other issues of pressing national concern to find effective responses to the pandemic.

Members of the Task Force:-

The National Task Force which is being constituted in pursuance of the above suggestion shall consist of the following members (names being set out in alphabetical order).
(i) Dr Bhabatosh Biswas, Former Vice Chancellor, West Bengal University of Health Sciences, Kolkata;
(ii) Dr Devender Singh Rana, Chairperson, Board of Management, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Delhi;
(iii) Dr Devi Prasad Shetty, Chairperson and Executive Director, Narayana Healthcare, Bengaluru;
(iv) Dr Gagandeep Kang, Professor, Christian Medical College, Vellore, Tamil Nadu;
(v) Dr JV Peter, Director, Christian Medical College, Vellore, Tamil Nadu;
(vi) Dr Naresh Trehan, Chairperson and Managing Director, Medanta Hospital and Heart Institute, Gurugram;
(vii) Dr Rahul Pandit, Director, Critical Care Medicine and ICU, Fortis Hospital, Mulund (Mumbai, Maharashtra) and Kalyan (Maharashtra);
(viii) Dr Saumitra Rawat, Chairman & Head, Department of Surgical Gastroenterology and Liver Transplant, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Delhi; 5 “Task Force”
(ix) Dr Shiv Kumar Sarin, Senior Professor and Head of Department of Hepatology, Director, Institute of Liver and Biliary Science (ILBS), Delhi;

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(x) Dr Zarir F Udwadia, Consultant Chest Physician, Hinduja Hospital, Breach Candy Hospital and Parsee General Hospital, Mumbai;
(xi) Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India (ex officio member); and
(xii) 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 Supreme Court bench of Justice Chandrachud and Justice Shah has issued the above directions in continuation of its previous directions which were passed in the Suo Motu plea (Re: Distribution Of Essential Supplies And Services During Pandemic)

The Apex Court on May 5 had noted three major issues while hearing the contempt petition filed by the Centre against the Order of the Delhi High Court. However, the Apex Court had stayed the HC order. The Apex Court has flagged three specific issues in its May 5 hearing.

(i) The methodology adopted by the Union Government for computing the requirement of oxygen of the states and union territories;

(ii) The need to manage available resources of oxygen to optimise their availability for the National Capital Territory of Delhi, which is dependent on: An efficient supply chain; Proper distribution of oxygen from the supply points to hospitals; and Building buffer stocks of oxygen; and

(iii) Actual availability of oxygen.

The Supreme Court said that in its order dated May 5, 2021 it has reiterated the direction for maintaining the supplies to National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCTD) at 700 MT per day. The Union Government was required to place on the record, a plan to achieve the fulfilment of this direction. The plan which has been placed before this Court is subject to caveats and conditions which cannot be accepted. What is sought to be assured in the first part of the plan is diluted with the next segment. 700 MT was not intended to be a requirement to be fulfilled for one day or sporadically, but on a daily basis. Daily basis means for every day.”

“We accordingly direct, that there shall be no reduction in the allocation and availability of medical oxygen to NCTD and the direction in regard to the provision of 700 MT per day shall continue to be observed,” noted the Apex Court in its Order.

National Task Force

The Supreme Court said During the course of the hearing, a consensus has emerged that there is a need to ensure that the allotments of medical oxygen to the States and UTs is made on a scientific, rational and equitable basis. 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 suggested that an expert body drawn of inter alia 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 Union Government has agreed to set up a National Task Force to streamline the process. This Task Force would be tasked inter alia with formulating a methodology for the scientific allocation of oxygen to the States and UTs. The Union Government has made its suggestions on the possible names for inclusion in the composition of the Task Force, while leaving its final composition to the Court. Following which the twelve-member task force constituted.(names given above)

The Court further directed that the Task Force is at liberty to draw upon the human resources of the Union Government for consultation and information.

It further said, the 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 consider it appropriate to co-opt or seek the assistance of other experts within or outside government to facilitate its working, including in the following areas:

(i) Infectious disease modelling;

(ii) Critical care;

(iii) Clinical virology/Immunology; and

(iv) Epidemiology/Public health.

The Supreme Court also defined the terms of reference for the Task Force which also Facilitate audits by sub-groups within each State and UT inter alia for determining:

(a) whether the supplies allocated by the Union Government reach the concerned State/UT;

(b) the efficacy of the distribution networks in distributing supplies meant for hospitals, health care institutions and others;

(c) whether the available stocks are being distributed on the basis of an effective, transparent and professional mechanism; and

(d) accountability in regard to the utilisation of the supplies of oxygen allocated to each State/UT.

“The purpose of conducting audits is to ensure a measure of accountability for the proper distribution of oxygen supplies made available by the Union Government to the States/UTs,” said the Apex Court.

For carrying the above task the Task Force will constitute sub-groups/committees for each State/UT comprising:

(i) An officer of the State/UT Government not below the rank of Secretary to the State Government;

(ii) An officer of the Union Government not below the rank of Additional/Joint Secretary;

(iii) Two medical doctors in the State/UT concerned including at least one with administrative experience of managing the medical facilities of a hospital; and

(iv) A representative from the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO).

For carrying out the audit for GNCTD, the audit sub-group shall consist of;

(i) Dr Randeep Guleria, Professor and Head, Department of Pulmonary Medicine and Sleep, AIIMS;

(ii) Dr Sandeep Budhiraja, Clinical Director & Director – Internal Medicine, Max Healthcare; and

(iii) An IAS officer, each from the Union Government and GNCTD, not below the rank of Joint Secretary.

“We emphasise that the purpose of conducting audits is to ensure accountability in respect of the supplies of oxygen provided to every State/UT. The purpose is to ensure that the supplies which have been allocated are reaching their destination; that they are being made available through the distribution network to the hospitals or, as the case may be, the end users efficiently and on a transparent basis; and to identify bottlenecks or issues in regard to the utilization of oxygen. The purpose of the audit is not to scrutinise the decisions made in good faith by doctors while treating their patients,” it added.

The Supreme Court has directed the Union Government to continue with the present practice of making allocations of oxygen (as modified by the orders of this Court or the orders of the High Courts as the case may be) until the Task Force has submitted its recommendations in regard to proposed modalities.

“The Union Government shall on receipt of the recommendations of the Task Force take an appropriate decision in regard to the allocation of oxygen and on all other recommendations. The Task Force shall also submit its recommendations from time to time to this Court. We request the Task Force to commence work immediately, taking up the pressing issue of determining the modalities for oxygen expeditiously within a week.

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The Court said that the tenure of the Task Force shall be six months initially. The Union Government shall provide all necessary assistance to the Task Force and nominate two Nodal Officers to facilitate its work. The Nodal Officers shall also arrange for logistics, including communication with the members and arranging the virtual meetings, of the Task Force.

The Court would hear the matter on May 17, 2021.

Source ILNS

11622-2021-35-35-27915-Order-06-May-2021

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