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 convener 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 an 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 that it is not receiving the SC-mandated 700 MT of oxygen daily. The bench said the Centre had no option but to maintain a daily supply of 700 MT oxygen to the national capital.
Justices Chandrachud and Shah explained the rationale behind constituting the NTF and said it is to facilitate a public health response to the pandemic based on scientific and 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.”
SC bench gives 6-mth tenure to task force
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, in its order uploaded on Saturday, gave a six-month tenure to the task force, which could be extended further if the need be. Apart from providing a scientific formula for allocation of oxygen to states, the NTF would also look into streamlining the transportation and distribution channels and set up state-wise sub-groups to audit the distribution and utilisation of oxygen rationally by the states as well as hospitals — both government and private.
“The Union government shall continue with the present practice of making allocations of oxygen (as modified by the orders of this court or the orders of 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,” it ordered.
The NTF’s terms and references for oxygen 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 and revision of allocations based on the stage and impact of the pandemic.”
On oxygen utilisation audit, the SC tasked the NTF to set up sub-groups within each state and UT for determining: (a) whether the supplies allocated by the Union government reach the state/ UT concerned, (b) the efficacy of the distribution networks in distributing supplies 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 and suggest measures necessary for ensuring availability of essential drugs and medicines. “The NTF will plan and adopt remedial measures for ensuring preparedness to meet present and future emergencies which may arise during the pandemic; facilitate use of technology to ensure optimisation of available manpower for implementing innovative solutions, particularly in order to provide an outreach of expert medical care to rural areas; suggest measures to augment the availability of trained doctors, nurses and paramedical staff, including by the creation of suitable incentives.”
The SC also said NTF will devise methodology to promote evidence-based research to enhance effective responses to the pandemic.