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From now on, helping an accident victim will earn you a ‘Good Samaritan’ badge of honour, not the harassment at the hands of police and hospital authorities that most people dread.
A Supreme Court bench of Justices V Gopala Gowda and Arun Mishra has directed state governments to prepare a format for a certificate of appreciation and distribute it to hospitals “for incentivising the bystander or Good Samaritan” who helps save lives by rushing victims of road mishaps for medical care.
The court has also issued a string of other directions to make certain that no person helping an accident victim is forced to disclose his or her identity, is detained in a hospital or a police station for questioning, is forced to take the witness box in a court, or is summoned by police.
“There is need to evolve the system by promptly providing effective care system with certain ethical and legal principles. It is absolutely necessary that Good Samaritans feel empowered to act without fear of adverse consequence. There is need to provide certain incentives to Good Samaritans,” the court noted.
Underscoring that almost 50 per cent of accident victims can be saved if they are taken to hospitals by bystanders or passersby, the bench said getting their support was “essential to enhance the chances of survival of victim in the ‘Golden Hour’ i.e. the first hour of the injury.”
According to the Global Road Safety Report, 2015, released by the World Health Organisation, a staggering 2 lakh people died in road accidents in India in 2014. The WHO number was almost 46 per cent more than the statistics released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) for that year.
While the total deaths estimated by the WHO for 2014 were 2, 07,551, the number of deaths reported under the head ‘Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India’ by the NCRB was 1, 41,526. Even by the NCRB’s data, 16 people lost their lives every hour on average in 2014.
Globally, 1.25 million people die in road accidents annually, the WHO said.
The apex court held that the right to life as enshrined in Article 21 also included the right to safety of persons while travelling on the road and hence, immediate medical assistance is required to be provided to safeguard such a valuable right.
For ensuring people’s lives are protected, the bench said, adequate legal protection and prevention from harassment of Good Samaritans is a must because people choose not to come forward to help the accident victims, fearing police cases and unending rounds in the court as witnesses.
The court regretted that many victims are left to bleed to death while people keep waiting for the police to take them to hospitals.
Taking into account two notifications issued by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and suggestions by Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand, the bench approved the guidelines issued by the central government in May 2015 and January 2016, and underlined they would operate as the law of the land until a legislation for affording protection to Good Samaritans is enacted.
The court rejected the idea that the acknowledgment for the Good Samaritans had to wait until a format was standardised by the state governments, and said that such certificates of appreciation should be distributed immediately on a letterhead or office pad to be prescribed by the state governments.
If he so desires, such a certificate will mention the name of the Good Samaritan, address, time, date, place of occurrence, and confirm that the injured person was brought to a hospital by him, the court said.
The directives were issued on a PIL moved by NGO Savelife Foundation, which had argued for the development of a supportive legal framework to protect those who render help to the victims of road accidents.
LEGAL COVER from top court
> Bystander/Good Samaritan shall not be detained by hospital or police station; will be allowed to leave immediately after furnishing address; will have no civil, criminal liability
> Those making phone calls to police or emergency services shall not be compelled to reveal names, details; action shall be initiated against public officials and policemen who force them to do so
> An acknowledgment as certificate of appreciation will be given to Good Samaritan
> Good Samaritan will not be forced to become a witness in a case; in case he wants to become a witness, his affidavit will be usually considered as his complete statement