Mumbai Local

Encouraging citizens to be Good Samaritans

n April 5 2007, Shivam Bajpai, a 12th-standard student from Kanpur, was on his way home from school when he was hit by a car.

As he lay on the road, he was run over again by another vehicle. He managed to drag himself to the side of a road and though he begged passers-by for help, they chose to pretend that they hadn't seen what had happened. Forty-five minutes later, he passed away.

The boy’s death deeply affected his cousin, Piyush Tewari, who was then a Los-Angeles based investment banker. He travelled several times to Kanpur to try and understand how the tragedy had happened and why no one stopped to help.

A year later, Mr Tewari formed the SaveLife Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to improving road safety and emergency medical care across India. It was the start of a long journey, one that recently reached a major milestone. On March 31, the Supreme Court upheld a Central notification issuing standard operating procedure (SOP) for the protection and examination of ‘Good Samaritans’ (from a Biblical parable, those who help strangers in distress on the road; in this context, those injured in road accidents) and made it binding on all state governments and authorities.

It was based on orders passed by the court on a PIL by SaveLife in 2012, which said that more accident victims’ lives could be saved if there was a law protecting Good Samaritans from legal and procedural hassles with the police and hospitals.

How important are these guidelines? Consider this: in 2014, 4.89 lakh road accidents were reported in India, with more than 4.93 lakh people injured and more than 1.4 lakh deaths; an average of 56 accidents, killing 16 people, every hour .

According to a Law Commission report on emergency medical care, doctors found that half the fatalities in accident cases could have been averted if the victims had been admitted into a hospital in the first hour after the accident. That doesn’t happen largely because India does not have infrastructure for immediate emergency care, but also because bystanders believe that helping could lead to getting entangled in bureaucracy.

In 2009 SaveLife Foundation, partnered hospitals to train police personnel in Delhi with a model emergency response system. But as Mr Tewari went deeper into the causes for India's inordinately high numbers of road fatalities, he began looking at laws and regulations in other countries that addressed the first phase of emergency care, help from bystanders. “We found that even with countries with advanced emergency response systems, there were laws to protect Good Samaritans to ensure that they wouldn’t be inconvenienced by bringing a stranger to hospital.”

SaveLife tracked down Good Samaritans around India, asking them about their experiences. “There were several cases where people were unnecessarily put in trouble just for wanting to help.” In some instances, people who had helped victims said the police immediately assumed that they were responsible for the accident.

This research was enough gave the foundation enough to submit a PIL to the Supreme Court, but Mr Tewari decided that a more rigorous national survey was needed. A survey by SaveLife with research agency TNS revealed that 74 per cent of bystanders are unlikely to assist victims of road accidents. Most said that they were reluctant to help for fear of legal hassles, including repeated police questioning and court appearances. Apathy wasn't the problem; people said they would help if not for the feared repercussions. But then several policemen Mr Tewari spoke to insisted that they were merely following the rules laid down in the CrPC in dealing with accident victims.

The only way out, therefore, was to introduce legislation that made an exception for people willing to help.

The court’s guidelines are yet to be made into a law — which will help clarify issues of implementation and enforcement — but, Mr Tewari says, they make it easier to find and train teams of volunteers who will provide on-the-spot emergency care.

While most of his work now is centred around preventing accidents, Mr Tewari says that the next step for him is to work on the phases after bystander care: ambulatory and in-hospital care. “We want to advocate for a law that makes emergency care a right to life and that will require a proper code for how all these three components work.”

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Printable version | May 10, 2021 1:13:09 AM |

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