A 12-member National Task Force has been set up by the Supreme Court to assess availability and distribution of medical oxygen – on scientific, rational and equitable basis – across the country.
The task force will also suggest measures to ensure similarly rational and equitable availability of medicines needed to treat COVID-19, and provide inputs, based on members’ scientific and specialised knowledge, to meet others challenges to have been raised by the Covid pandemic.
Sources told NDTV Supreme Court judges spoke personally to each member of the task force, which is expected to begin work within a week. Reports will be submitted to the centre and the court, but its recommendations will be sent directly to the Supreme Court.
The court has directed the centre to provide assistance and said that stakeholders – from states to hospitals – must co-operate with the task force, which will have an initial tenure of six months.
The task force will include Dr Bhabatosh Biswas, the former Vice Chancellor of The West Bengal University of Health Sciences, and Dr Naresh Trehan, Chairperson and Managing Director of Gurgaon’s Medanta Hospital and Heart Institute.
Other members include leading doctors from Delhi’s Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Vellore’s Christian Medical College, Bengaluru’s Narayana Healthcare and Mumbai’s Fortis Hospital.
Setting up of the task force had been ordered by the top court on Friday, when it called for a revamp of the centre’s allocation of oxygen to different states. The court said the centre failed to consider factors like ambulances, lower-level Covid care facilities and patients in home quarantine.
“We need to do look at the issue pan-India…an oxygen audit is necessary. What is the accountability once stocks are released?” the court had asked.
The court had also demanded to know if the centre was prepping for a possible third Covid wave, which could further worsen the acute shortfall in oxygen, medicines and hospital beds.
India is battling a devastating wave of coronavirus cases; this morning over four lakh new cases were reported in the past 24 hours. The number of active Covid cases in the country is now over 37 lakh – nearly four times the previous high from September last year.
Oxygen has become a crucial medical resource because significantly more patients are suffering from breathlessness in this wave of infections, the centre has said.
The shortfall led to panicked SOSs from Delhi hospitals and to terrified relatives of patients running around to get oxygen cylinders on their own, often from the black market.
Last week 12 people died at a private hospital after the oxygen ran out.
It also led to the Delhi government asking the Delhi High Court for relief, following which the Supreme Court took up the matter and ordered the centre to send 700 MT of oxygen per day.
“You will have to give 700 tonnes to Delhi (700 tonnes dena hi padega)… The centre continues to be in contempt for not supplying 700 tonnes of oxygen to Delhi,” the court had said.
The Supreme Court, this week, also ruled against the centre in a case involving Karnataka, which had asked for increased oxygen supply.
Apart from Delhi and Karnataka, other states have also flagged an oxygen issue; this week Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi with a warning.
The centre has insisted the oxygen crisis is a problem of transportation rather than supply. Last week it said there was enough medical oxygen and the challenge was moving it to high-demand areas.