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 availability of medicines needed to treat COVID-19.
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. At the time the centre had agreed and wanted an audit to be performed, but the Delhi government had opposed it.
Sources told NDTV the two-judge bench that passed the order - Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah - spoke personally to each member of the task force, which will begin work within a week.
"The rationale for constituting a Task Force at a national level is to facilitate public health response to the pandemic based on scientific and specialised domain knowledge. We expect leading experts in the country shall associate with the Task Force, as members and resource persons," the court said in its final order.
"This will facilitate a meeting of minds and the formulation of scientific strategies to deal with an unprecedented human crisis," the court added.
The task force's reports will be submitted to the centre and the court.
Members include Dr Bhabatosh Biswas, 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.
Two members will be from the government and a Cabinet Secretary will be the convenor.
In its hearings the Supreme Court had 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.
In its order on Saturday the Supreme Court noted the centre's assurance that an adequate quantity of oxygen and steps for augmentation of supply were being undertaken at the highest level.