On March 25, Friday, three young men on their two-wheeler were rammed by a speeding bus in Karnataka’s Mysuru district. Lying in a pool of blood, they kept pleading the passers-by for hours but no one came to their assistance. Of the three men, one died on the spot. After precious time had been lost, the other two were taken to a nearby hospital where they succumbed to their injuries. Instead of coming out to help, the bystanders were busy shooting their video.
Was it apathy? Was it fear? Why did no one approach to help them? These questions beg to be answered.
People are hesitant to help
According to the latest report by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), on an average, 387 people die daily due to road crashes in India. If the injured were attended to on time, we would have been witnessing a reduction in casualties by up to 50 per cent.
Time and again, we have failed to protect the injured and the good samaritans. They face legal harassment, are asked to cough up money in the hospitals, called time and again to testify, threatened by cops or bribed by the opposite party to change statements. They are basically left to fend for self with no legal support whatsoever. Vulnerable at this point, most of the witnesses decide to opt out - a strong reason why a lot of road accident cases remain unresolved. But, not anymore.
Good Samaritans will be shielded now
Piyush Tewari, Founder, SaveLIFE Foundation, said, "The bystanders' harassment needed to stop, and for that, an environment needed to be created that would enable good samaritans to extend help."
Tewari’s SaveLIFE foundation pushed for a Good Samaritan Law in 2012 through a Public Interest Litigation (PIL). After several recommendations, deliberations and consultations, on October 29, 2014, the Supreme Court prompted the Centre to notify the guidelines for the protection of Good Samaritans or helpful bystanders.
In effect, several guidelines were notified in May 2015 by the Union government that sided with the helpful bystanders. On January 22, 2016, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways issued Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the examination of Good Samaritans by the police or during trial.
The eureka moment came on March 4 this year when the Supreme Court made these SOPs binding by the law in all the states and union territories, thereby freeing helpful bystanders from any civil or criminal liability. On March 30, the Supreme Court gave the final stamp and approved all the guidelines to protect the good samaritans.
Here are the simplified guidelines that would encourage you to extend help:
The Good Samaritan shall be treated respectfully and without any discrimination on the grounds of gender, religion, nationality, caste or creed.
Any person who makes a phone call to the Police control room or Police station to give information about any accidental injury or death, can do so by choosing to remain anonymous.
No police harassment
Any police official shall not compel the Good Samaritan to disclose his/her identity or force to become a witness in the matter. He/she should be allowed to leave after having informed the Police about the incident.
No mandatory disclosure of identity
If an identity is disclosed, it would be done voluntarily by the Good Samaritan.
Hassle-free witness examination
The Good Samaritan, who chooses to be a witness, will be examined by the investigating officer at a time and place of his/her convenience. It could be his/her place of residence or business. If that’s not the case, then the eyewitnesses shall be examined through video-conferencing.
During examination, the investigation officer shall be dressed in plain clothes, unless the Good Samaritan chooses to visit the police station, where he/she will be examined in a single sitting. An interpreter shall also be arranged, if needed.
Action against erring official
Disciplinary action will be taken against officials who try to coerce the Samaritan into revealing his/her identity and details.
Hospitals to provide emergency care
Hospitals shall not detain bystanders, ask them to reveal identity in Medico Legal form or demand payment from them unless they happen to be relatives of the victims.
Lack of response by doctors in emergency situations shall be deemed as ‘Professional Misconduct’.
Acknowledgement and Reward to Good Samaritan
Bystanders can also request for an acknowledgement of their efforts, which the hospital must provide in a standard format stating that “an injured person was brought to the hospital along with the time and place of such occurrence”.
The Good Samaritans will also be duly rewarded as a mark of encouragement for others to come forward too. The reward amount has to be decided by the state governments.
You can read detailed guidelines here and SOPs here.
Help should not become a liability
According to Tewari, the battle is only half won as the real challenge is to implement the guidelines and SOPs on the ground. “With the help of media and marketing, we at SaveLife are planning activities to spread awareness. Police training is being conducted in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Gujarat and Rajasthan. Policemen, usually the first responders, are being enabled to give basic first aid to the injured under Jeevan Rakshak program,” said Tewari.
Positive move from Karnataka
On March 8, the Karnataka government announced Mukhyamantri Santawana ‘Harish’ scheme, named after Harish Nanjappa, an accident victim whose body was cut into two halves after a speeding lorry rammed his bike in Bengaluru. His last wish was that his organs be donated.
The scheme aims to provide immediate cashless treatment at hospitals for all accident victims for up to 48 hours with a cap of Rs 25,000. Karnataka could also be the first stae to adopt the Good Samaritan Law.
Tewari is confident that more and more state governments will join and help in making roads safer for all and also reward the helpful bystanders.
People who made it possible
With Tewari at the helm, his team of senior advocates Indu Malhotra, Kush Chaturvedi and other members of SaveLIFE Foundation championed the cause. Tewari shared that while we put forward the need of a Good Samaritan Law, it was the pro-activeness and determination of ministers which made it possible.
“It was Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari and Abhay Damle, Joint Secretary, Transport, Ministry of Road and Transport who were quick to act and their support culminated into this. We also got great encouragement and backing from BJP MP Kirron Kher and Congress MP Shashi Tharoor,” said Tewari.
The road ahead
As far as making roads safer for people is concerned, many challenges lie ahead, be it fixing current infrastructure, building a robust mobile support system to help distressed people get to safety, ensuring all traffic rules are strictly adhered to and training drivers and bystanders to provide immediate care.
Tewari’s focus currently is on building a strong chain of survival that begins with a bystander, continues in an ambulance and concludes in a hospital. Recently, India got its own Universal Access Number for all emergencies - 112. Tewari maintained, “Up next, we are pushing for Right to Emergency Care Act under which a robust emergency care mechanism and a national ambulance code.”