Oxygen supply: SC asks govt to present report on NTF’s proposals in 2 weeks

Task force formed by court in pandemic second wave peak time to ensure ‘effective and transparent’ allocation of LMO on a ‘scientific, rational and equitable basis’

The Supreme Court on Monday gave the government two weeks to submit a report detailing the action taken to comply with the recommendations of the court-appointed National Task Force (NTF) to augment, secure and streamline the manufacture, allocation and supply of medical oxygen to the States and the Union Territories fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah directed the government to also place on record the report of the 12-member NTF along with its action taken report.

Justice Chandrachud said, “The NTF consists of eminent doctors… The Union of India has to assure that recommendations have been acted upon at an enhanced level for the future…”

The NTF was formed by the court during the peak days of the second wave of the pandemic to ensure the “effective and transparent” allocation of liquid medical oxygen on a “scientific, rational and equitable basis”. The court had expressed its dissatisfaction at the Centre’s earlier “oxygen for bed” formula. This “rough and ready” arrangement, as the court put it then, was based on calculating the allotment of oxygen based on the number of ICU/non-ICU beds. The court had reasoned that the formula did not take into consideration the fact that many COVID-19 patients in dire need of oxygen do not get beds or were confined in home care.

The NTF was “drawn of renowned national experts with diverse experience in health institutions” to function within the Central government apparatus in order to mould a public health response to the pandemic, based on scientific and specialised domain knowledge. Justice Chandrachud had said that the ambit of its recommendations should go beyond cobbling together ad hoc solutions and lay the foundation for the future in the face of public health crisis.

In June, the NTF had come out with a report, focussing on the urgent need to make all 18 metro cities in the country oxygen-independent, with at least 100 MT storage in the city itself. It had recommended adopting a strategy to manufacture oxygen locally or in the neighbourhood of big cities to fullfil at least 50% of their Liquid Medical Oxygen (LMO) demand as road transportation is vulnerable. “This may be taken up in respect of Delhi and Mumbai on priority, due to their population density,” it had stated.

Need for strategic reserves

The NTF highlighted the need to make efforts to further scale up LMO production in preparation for a third wave of the pandemic. “We should have strategic reserves of oxygen for country to cover two-three weeks’ consumption, similar to the arrangement made for petroleum products. Similarly, all hospitals should have a buffer capacity for emergencies… There is an urgent need to increase production of LMO from about 5% – 8% of gaseous industrial oxygen. Government should support and subsidise the industries concerned,” the report said.

The NTF suggested that that the States could even set up makeshift hospitals in the proximity of industrial oxygen production units. Oxygen generation units (PSA) should be made compulsory for hospitals, including for medical colleges and district hospitals. Each hospital with 100 or more beds, should be encouraged to have an LMO installation.

The NTF has supported working out new strategies for uninterrupted oxygen supply to the rural areas. This includes having PSA plants in vulnerable areas, oxygen concentrators in rural COVID-19 care centres and parking 250-litre oxygen cylinders in medical facilities located in smaller villages.

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