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COVID: SC Sets up National Task Force To Help Centre With ‘Scientific’ Solutions

COVID: SC Sets up National Task Force To Help Centre With ‘Scientific’ Solutions

Inside the Supreme Court of India. Photo: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Supreme Court has set up a new national task force to help the government devise an appropriate response to India’s devastating second, and ongoing, COVID-19 wave, based on “scientific and specialised domain knowledge”, Bar & Bench has reported. According to justices D.Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah, who passed the relevant order, the task force can incorporate scientific points, including informed projections of the epidemic’s evolution, in their advice and help the government go beyond “ad hoc solutions”.

The 12 members are as follows:

i. Bhabatosh Biswas, former VC of West Bengal University of Health Sciences, Kolkata

ii. Devender Singh Rana, chairperson, board of management, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi

iii. Dr Devi Prasad Shetty, chairperson and executive director, Narayana Healthcare, Bengaluru

iv. Gagandeep Kang, professor, Christian Medical College, Vellore, Tamil Nadu

v. J.V. Peter, director, Christian Medical College, Vellore

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 and Kalyan

viii. Dr Saumitra Rawat, chairman and head, department of surgical gastroenterology and liver transplant, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Delhi

ix. Dr Shiv Kumar Sarin, senior professor and head of the department of hepatology, director, Institute of Liver and Biliary Science, New Delhi

x. Dr Zarir F. Udwadia, consultant chest physician (and a well-known expert on tuberculosis), Hinduja Hospital, Breach Candy Hospital and Parsee General Hospital, all in Mumbai

xi. Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India (ex officio member)

xii. Cabinet secretary to the Union government (the cabinet secretary may nominate an officer not below the rank of additional secretary as deputy, when necessary)

One of the few principal problems facing India right now is a vaccine shortage, on the back of poorly planned and executed logistics. So the absence on the task force of a supply-chain management expert is conspicuous.

That said, the task force will have the following specific responsibilities (quoted verbatim from the order):

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.

To exercise these responsibilities, the apex court said the task force can expect the assistance of the following members of government:

i. A NITI Aayog member (whoever the vice-chairperson nominates)

ii. Ministry of Home Affairs secretary (currently Ajay Bhalla)

iii. Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade secretary (currently Guruprasad Mohapatra)

iv. Ministry of Road Transport and Highways secretary (currently Giridhar Aramane)

v. AIIMS New Delhi director (currently Randeep Guleria)

vi. Indian Council of Medical Research director-general (currently Balram Bhargava)

vii. Director-General of Health Services (currently Sunil Kumar)

viii. National Informatics Centre director-general (currently Neeta Verma)

ix. Centre for Development of Advanced Computing head (currently Hemant Darbari)

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