Nearly 1,50,000 people get killed and more than three times as many sustain injuries in road accidents in India every year, says a recent World Health Organization report.
“Annual social loss due to these accidents is 3 per cent of GDP. Timely help can save about 50 per cent of the lives.
If proper medical care is provided to victims within an hour after the accident, the chances of victims’ survival will be the highest,” says former Delhi High Court judge V. S. Agarwal in a report compiled by a Supreme Court- appointed panel he headed on framing guidelines for the protection of Good Samaritans.
The 201st report of the Law Commission also corroborates this fact by stating that “ according to doctors, at least 50 per cent of the fatalities can be averted if victims are admitted to a hospital within the first one hour post accident.” A study by the Indian Journal of Surgery in 2012 says 80 per cent of road accident victims in India do not receive emergency medical care within the ‘ golden hour’. In a big relief, SC- initiated efforts to draft a supportive legal framework for Good Samaritans who help accident victims have gained momentum under the close watch of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam.
The law is intended to reduce bystanders’ hesitation to assist victims for fear of being harassed in hospitals, police stations and courts where they would be summoned several times. They are either made prosecution witnesses or prosecuted for accidental injury or death.
Laws protecting Good Samaritans exist in the UK, the US, Canada and other European countries.
The SC panel’s recommendations are set to be taken forward by another panel. Hearing a PIL filed by NGO Save Life Foundation, the court had called for a concerted effort by the Union Health Ministry, Road and Transport Ministry, National Highway Authority and police forces to tackle the menace.
The SC panel was tasked with identifying the root cause of fear among good Samaritans. “Harassment by the police and repeated visits to courts are the root causes.
Even in hospitals, ( those who help) are made to wait till the police arrive,” says Justice Agarwal in the report submitted recently in the apex court.
Senior lawyer Indu Malhotra — the counsel for the NGO — told the court that persons helping accident victims should be exempted from civil and criminal liability. “Identity of the person who helps bring the victim to hospital should not be revealed and he/ she should not be compelled to visit the police station or appear as a witness in court. They should be allowed to make statement through affidavit and only in exceptional cases, the person may be called by the court,” she said.
Representing the Centre, Additional Solicitor General Sidharth Luthra welcomed the idea of a law to protect Good Samaritans, but said it would have to be examined by the law ministry. He also warned about the possible misuse of the law.
“Under the criminal procedure code, any witness can give evidence through an affidavit and their examination can be dispensed with unless ordered by court. But dispensing with the requirement of disclosing the identity or refusal to provide information regarding the accident would entail serious consequences for investigations,” said the ASG.
WHAT THE SC PANEL HAS RECOMMENDED
Protect Good Samaritans, a term used here to describe people who help accident victims before the police arrives, from harassment in police stations and courts. Exempt them from civil and criminal liability. They should not be forced to reveal their identity. As regards fulfilment of medico- legal formalities, they should be examined at their residence/ place of work.
They should be allowed to make their statement through affidavits, and only in exceptional cases should they be summoned in court.
If summoned as an eye- witness, the Good Samaritan’s statement should be recorded in a single hearing. They should not be made to come to court again and again. State board and CBSE syllabus should have chapters on first- aid training.
There should be ambulances and first- aid centres every 30km on national highways.
THE LAW ABROAD
UK, USA and Canada: Good Samaritans are fully protected unless it is established that their negligence caused more injuries.
China: Notorious for its poor treatment of Good Samaritans. There have been incidents where those who helped people were accused of injuring them!
Germany: The failure to provide firstaid to a person in need is punishable. Rescuers cannot be prosecuted even if they, in any way, make the situation worse or do not fulfil specific first- aid criteria.
Italy: Good Samaritans are protected from court action. But they can be punished if the victim comes to harm.
France: Law requires one to help injured people. If they don’t, they can be charged with failing to respect the law.