SC Sets Up National Task Force To Streamline Centre's Oxygen Allocation

SC's 12-member National Task Force will assess, review and recommend ways to tackle the COVID19 pandemic.

The Supreme Court on Saturday constituted a National Task Force (NFT) to formulate a methodology for scientific allocation of oxygen to States and Union Territories. The task force will also provide a public health response based on a scientific approach to issues arising out of the pandemic.

"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," the top court's order, released on May 8 read.

Except for two government officials, and a former vice-chancellor, the NFT has been drawn from the private health care sector. Doctors like Medanta's Naresh Trehan, Narayana Healthcare's Devi Prasad Shetty, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital's Devender Singh Rana among others are part of the NFT.

The top court's order comes even as several high courts are hearing pleas on oxygen shortages in their states.

Need to revisit formula for oxygen allocation: SC to Centre

The NFT is borne out of discussions on whether the Centre's formula to allocate medical oxygen needed a "relook" in light of multiple states complaining about the shortage of the same. The formula did not account for ICU patients who don't need oxygen, while patients in home isolation do. It also didn't account for oxygen in ambulances, covid care facility etc... the division bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud said on May 5.

"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 health 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.

The order further said that the need of the hour was to draw up an effective and transparent mechanism to ensure allocation of medical oxygen to all states and UTs during the pandemic.

The 12 terms of reference set up by the SC for the NFT to deliberate on include assessing, reviewing and making recommendations on what the country needs to tackle the pandemic. The NFT has also been tasked with conducting an audit on whether the Centre's resources reached the end-user, the distribution network and the effective distribution of available stock in a transparent and professional manner.

The top court was hearing the Centre's plea challenging a notice of contempt issued by the Delhi High Court in light of the fact that the state received less than the allocated amount of oxygen. The top court is simultaneously hearing its own suo motu matter on issues arising from the second covid wave. The Centre has allocated Delhi 590mT of medical oxygen against the state's demand for 700MT.

However, the apex court on May 5 had directed the Centre to supply 700MT of medical oxygen to Delhi.

On April 30, while hearing the suo motu matter, the top court had directed the Centre to revisit its initiatives and protocols, including on the availability of oxygen, availability and pricing of vaccines, availability of essential drugs at affordable prices and respond on the same on Monday, May 10. However, in light of the new task force, the matter is now pushed to May 17.

According to the Centre's 'Empowered Group I'—comprising Dr VK Paul, Dr Guleria, Director General of Health Services and Dr Balram Bhargava, DG ICMR—oxygen allocation for COVID-19 patients is categorized in three broad classes: a) Class I comprising of 80% cases that are mild and do not require oxygen; b) Class II comprising of 17% cases which are moderate and can be managed on non-ICU beds and 50% of these may require oxygen @10L/min; c) Class II comprising of 3% of cases which are severe ICU cases require approximately @24L/min oxygen.

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