The Indian Supreme Court has appointed a 12-member National Task Force to determine the availability and distribution of medical oxygen across the country on a scientific, fair, and equitable basis.
The task force will also recommend steps to ensure that medicines required to treat Covid-19 are available in a rational and equitable manner, as well as provide inputs based on members' scientific and specialized expertise to address other challenges posed by the Covid pandemic.
According to NDTV, Supreme Court judges met with each member of the task force individually. The task force is scheduled to start working within a week. Reports will be sent to the center and the court, but the Supreme Court will receive the recommendations directly.
The court has ordered the central government to provide the requisite assistance and has stated that all stakeholders, including state governments and hospitals, must work together.
The task force will be appointed for a six-month period.
The task force is to be led by Dr Bhabatosh Biswas, the former Vice Chancellor of the West Bengal University of Health Sciences, and will include 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.
The court had also demanded to know if the centre was prepping for a possible third Covid wave.
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 over 37 lakh - nearly four times the previous high recorded in 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 approaching the Delhi High Court for relief, following which the Supreme Court took up the matter and eventually ordered the centre to provide Delhi with 700 metric tonnes 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 centre has insisted the oxygen crisis is a problem of transportation rather than supply.