Now, if you help a road accident victim, you should expect to be treated with respect by hospitals, the courts and the police.
Over the last 30 years, Suraj Prakash Vaid, a Delhi-based tours and taxi operator, has transported over 70 road accident victims to hospital. For his good deeds, he has had to face court hearings on more than one occasion since he was made a witness in several of the cases.
Now, people like him will no longer have to worry about harassment at hospitals, police stations and courts. The Supreme Court on Wednesday approved the guidelines issued by the Centre for the protection of Good Samaritans at the hands of the police or any other authority.
A bench comprising justices V. Gopala Gowda and Arun Mishra directed the Centre to give wide publicity to the guidelines, which clearly stipulate that people who help victims of road accidents or other calamities are not harassed in any way. According to a study by the SaveLIFE Foundation (PDF), this is expected to greatly change the attitude of bystanders in assisting road accident victims – and thus should result in saving many more lives.
The Law Commission of India observes that 50% of those killed in road accidents could have been saved had timely assistance been rendered to them (PDF). And a World Health Organisation report claims that “skilled and empowered bystanders play a crucial role in saving lives” and “in order to enable bystanders to come forward and help injured persons, a supportive legal and ethical environment is needed” (PDF).
It was SaveLIFE Foundation that filed the original PIL and triggered these developments. On the basis of a national study of past cases conducted by it, the foundation submits that three out of four people in India hesitated to come forward and help road accident victims, and that 88% of them had attributed this hesitation to fear of legal and procedural hassles. “These hassles include intimidation by police, unnecessary detention at hospitals and prolonged legal formalities,” it elaborates.
In a landmark ruling on March 4, the Supreme Court stated that it would pass an order on the recommendations of a three-member committee, chaired by its former Judge K.S. Radhakrishnan and comprising former Secretary of Road Transport Ministry S. Sundar and scientist Nishi Mittal, which had demanded protection for those saving accident victims.
The panel, appointed by the apex court in 2014, made 12 major recommendations in all, including setting up of State Road Safety Councils, evolving a protocol for the identification and removal of “blackspots,” monitoring to gauge the effectiveness of the action taken, and strengthening of enforcement relating to drunken driving, over-speeding, red light jumping, and helmet and seat belt laws.
The decision of the Supreme Court granting legal teeth to the guidelines assumes significance because the Centre has always claimed that it has found it difficult to enforce guidelines in the absence of any statutory backing. With the court order, the guidelines and standard operating procedures have become binding in all states and union territories.
A crucial step
Hailing the apex court’s decision, Piyush Tewari, the founder and CEO of SaveLIFE Foundation, said: “This is a big day for India. Until now most states were treating the guidelines merely as an advisory. But now, non-compliance will be treated as contempt of court, making these guidelines as reliable as laws. The onus is now on the state governments and union territories to ensure the implementation of these guidelines.”
The guidelines are an interim measure to deal with the issue till the Centre enacts appropriate legislation –but are also a crucial step in that direction. “In order to ensure the effective implementation of the guidelines and SOPs, it is imperative that a comprehensive Good Samaritan law is enacted at the Central and state level,” the foundation said. Such a legislation, it added, would give legal backing to the guidelines, address the concerns of the Good Samaritans and protect them from all forms of harassment.
Tewari concluded, “The next challenge is to get this information to the last mile. Lives will get saved only when people on the road are aware of these new rights they have.”
The guidelines lay down the following:
- The Good Samaritan will be treated respectfully and without any discrimination on the grounds of gender, religion, nationality and caste.
- Any individual, except an eyewitness, who calls the police to inform them of an accidental injury or death need not reveal his or her personal details such as full name, address or phone number.
- The police will not compel the Good Samaritan to disclose his or her name, identity, address and other such details in the police record form or log register.
- The police will not force any Good Samaritan in procuring information or anything else.
- The police will allow the Good Samaritan to leave after having provided the information available to him or her, and no further questions will be asked of him or her if he or she does not desire to be a witness.
Even when Good Samaritans agree to become witnesses, the guidelines accord them protection and comfort. They ensure that:
- If a Good Samaritan chooses to be a witness, she will be examined with utmost care and respect.
- The examination will be conducted at a time and place of the Good Samaritan’s convenience and the investigation officer will be dressed in plain clothes.
- If the Good Samaritan is required by the investigation officer to visit the police station, the reasons for the requirement shall be recorded by the officer in writing.
- In a police station, the Good Samaritan will be examined in a single examination in a reasonable and time-bound manner, without causing any undue delay.
- If a Good Samaritan declares himself to be an eyewitness, she will be allowed to give her evidence in the form of an affidavit.
The guidelines also specify that the concerned Superintendent or Deputy Commissioner of Police are responsible in ensuring that all the above-mentioned procedures are implemented throughout their respective jurisdictions.
Timeline of developments
2012: PIL filed by SaveLIFE Foundation.
October 29, 2014: The Supreme Court directed the Centre to issue the necessary guidelines with regard to the protection of Good Samaritans until appropriate legislation was not made by the Union Legislature.
May 13, 2015: In a gazette notification (PDF), Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) notified the said guidelines. As per the guidelines, the disclosure of personal information by a Good Samaritan who brings an injured person to the hospital was made voluntary. They also provided that a Good Samaritan would not be liable for any civil or criminal liability.
January 22, 2016: MoRTH issued Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) (PDF) for the examination of Good Samaritans by the police or during trial.
March 4, 2016: The Supreme Court reserved the judgment making the guidelines and SOPs binding on all states and union territories of India.
March 30, 2016: The Supreme Court approved the guidelines issued by the Centre.