The Supreme Court has set up a twelve-member National Task Force (NTF) to facilitate a public health response to COVID-19 based on scientific and specialised domain knowledge.
The NTF, which has medical experts and doctors from across the country as its members, will have the Cabinet Secretary to the Union government as its convenor, the Court ordered.
The NTF will specifically address issues relating to streamlining of oxygen allocation to different states, review and suggest measures to ensure availability of essential drugs and medicines, and adopt remedial measures to ensure preparedness for future emergencies.
The order was passed by a Bench of Justices DY Chandradhud and MR Shah.
Explaining the rationale behind setting up the NTF, the Court said that the establishment of such a task force will enable the decision makers to have inputs which go beyond finding ad-hoc solutions to present problems.
The likely future course of the pandemic must be taken into contemplation at the present time. This, the Court emphasised, will ensure that projected future requirements can be scientifically mapped in the present and may be modulated in light of experience.
“Estimating projected needs is crucial to ensure that the country remains prepared to meet future eventualities, which will cause a demand for oxygen, medicines, infrastructure, manpower and logistics. 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,” the order said.
The National Task Force 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;
(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 deputise, when necessary.
The Court further said that the Task Force would be at liberty to draw upon the human resources of the Union government for consultation and information, including the following:
(i) A member of NITI Aayog to be nominated by the Vice-Chairperson;
(ii) Secretary, Ministry of Human Affairs;
(iii) Secretary, Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade;
(iv) Secretary, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways;
(v) Director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi;
(vi) Director General, Indian Council of Medical Research, New Delhi;
(vii) Director General of Health Services;
(viii) Director General, National Informatics Centre; and
(ix) Head, Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC).
The concerned Secretaries would be at liberty to nominate officers of the rank of Additional/Joint Secretary to deputise for them. The Task Force is at liberty to formulate its modalities and procedure for working.
Terms of Reference
As per the Supreme Court order, the terms of reference of the National Task Force shall be to:
(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 to arise 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.
The matter will he heard again on May 17.