SC sets up National Task Force to streamline oxygen allocation, ensure availability of essential drugs, medicines

New Delhi: The Supreme Court has directed the 12-member National Task Force (NTF) set up on Saturday to streamline oxygen allocation in the country to form sub-groups for each state/Union Territory to conduct an audit for determining whether the oxygen supplies allocated by the Centre are reaching the concerned state/UT.

A bench comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah said: “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.” Elaborating on the terms of reference of the National Task Force, the top court said it will assess and make recommendations for the entire country based on the need for, availability and distribution of medical oxygen.

“Formulate and devise the methodology for the allocation of medical oxygen to the States and UTs on a scientific, rational and equitable basis. Make recommendations on augmenting the available supplies of oxygen based on present and projected demands likely during the pandemic; Make recommendations for the periodical review and revision of allocations based on the stage and impact of the pandemic”, said the top court in its order.

The audit by sub-groups within each state and UT will determine whether the supplies allocated by the Union Government reach the concerned State/UT; the efficacy of the distribution networks in distributing supplies meant for hospitals, health care institutions and others; whether the available stocks are being distributed on the basis of an effective, transparent and professional mechanism; accountability in regard to the utilisation of the supplies of oxygen allocated to each State/UT.

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The task force will also review and suggest measures necessary for ensuring the availability of essential drugs and medicines. For the purpose of facilitating the audits, the Task Force will constitute sub-groups/committees for each state/UT comprising:

“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)”, said the top court in its order.

For carrying out the above audit exercise for Delhi, the audit sub-group shall consist of 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.

The bench added 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”, said the top court.

The bench added that the purpose of the audit is not to scrutinize the decisions made in good faith by doctors while treating their patients. “We request the Task Force to commence work immediately, taking up the pressing issue of determining the modalities for oxygen expeditiously within a week. 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”, said the top court, fixing the matter for further hearing on May 17.

The bench emphasized that the Centre would continue with the present practice of making allocations of oxygen until the Task Force has submitted its recommendations in regard to the 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”, added the bench.


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