In a big embarrassment to Narendra Modi-led Government, facing brickbats in handling the COVID-19 crisis, the Supreme Court on Saturday formed a 12-member National Task Force (NTF) to 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 formation of NTF has literally taken over the existing work of Union Home and Health Ministries. Among the 12 members of the Supreme Court-appointed National Task Force, 10 are illustrious doctors of the country like Naresh Trehan, Devi Shetty. The Union Health Secretary will act as Secretary and Cabinet Secretary or an officer nominated by him will act as Convener of the NTF.
As per the Order passed by Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah, the 10 members in the NTF are:
- Dr Bhabatosh Biswas, Former Vice-Chancellor, West Bengal University of Health Sciences, Kolkata.
- Dr Devender Singh Rana, Chairperson, Board of Management, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Delhi.
- Dr Devi Prasad Shetty, Chairperson and Executive Director, Narayana Healthcare, Bengaluru.
- Dr Gagandeep Kang, Professor, Christian Medical College, Vellore, Tamil Nadu.
- Dr J V Peter, Director, Christian Medical College, Vellore, Tamil Nadu.
- Dr Naresh Trehan, Chairperson and Managing Director, Medanta Hospital and Heart Institute, Gurugram.
- Dr Rahul Pandit, Director, Critical Care Medicine and ICU, Fortis Hospital, Mulund (Mumbai, Maharashtra) and Kalyan (Maharashtra).
- Dr Saumitra Rawat, Chairman & Head, Department of Surgical Gastroenterology and Liver Transplant, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Delhi; 5 “Task Force”.
- Dr Shiv Kumar Sarin, Senior Professor and Head of Department of Hepatology, Director, Institute of Liver and Biliary Science (ILBS), Delhi.
- Dr Zarir F Udwadia, Consultant Chest Physician, Hinduja Hospital, Breach Candy Hospital and Parsee General Hospital, Mumbai.
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for May 17.
Explaining the rationale behind setting up the NTF, the Bench headed by Justice Chandrachud said that the establishment of such a Task Force will enable the decision-makers to have inputs that go beyond finding ad-hoc solutions to present problems. The order also said that Solicitor General Tushar Mehta has appraised the Supreme Court of India about the consent of the Central Government about the formation of the NTF and its members.
“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.
Supreme 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 a member of NITI Aayog to be nominated by the Vice-Chairperson; Secretaries from Ministry of Human Affairs; Industries, Transport and Highways, Director of AIIMS, Delhi, DG of ICMR, DG of Health Services, DG of NIC and Head of 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 depute on behalf of them. The Task Force is at liberty to formulate its modalities and procedure for working,” said the order of the Bench, literally taking out the powers of the Central Government led by Modi. For the past two weeks, the Central Government was facing all-out criticism from all sides due to its failure in the supply of oxygen and medicines to the states and was engaging in bitter legal battles with the states in Supreme Court and various High Courts in the country. Many observe that the entire mess was created due to too much centralization of resources and logistics by the Modi Government.
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