Can you really be Good Samaritan in India?

The Supreme Court wants the public to help during accidents, but it’s not easy being the good guy.

BySubhabrata Dasgupta
Can you really be Good Samaritan in India?
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Earlier last week, the Delhi government said that it was considering a proposal to encourage auto drivers with cash rewards of Rs 2000 for rushing road accident and trauma victims to hospitals. While making the announcement, Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain said that ambulances often do not reach the accident victims in time and if proper protocol was followed and people waited for an ambulance, lives may be lost in the process.

Senior Delhi Police officers have welcomed the move. They told The Hindu that to ensure that the move is a success, auto drivers will have to trained in providing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to victims and know how to safely load victims into their vehicles so that injuries are not aggravated in the process.

The Delhi government’s move comes a fortnight after a Supreme Court bench, comprising of Justice V. Gopala Gowda and Justice Arun Mishra, ruled that the Good Samaritan guidelines issued by the Government of India are binding on all states and Union Territories under Article 141 of the Constitution of India. This means that these SC-approved guidelines have the full force of law. Technically, this makes it easy for bystanders — usually the first responders in road accidents — to come to the aid of road accident victims, without being harassed by hospital authorities or the police in any manner. The full guidelines can be read here.

When being good goes bad

In January this year, Shrijith Ravindran, a restaurateur in his 30s, chanced upon a road accident victim. He took the bleeding, semi-conscious victim to a hospital in his car. The victim was 61-year-old Dilip Khairnar. Instead of this being a simple good deed, it marked the start of an episode that remains a traumatic memory for Ravindran.

The accident had taken place in Khadki, Pune, and Ravindran drove Khairnar to the nearby Cantonment hospital. “At Cantonment hospital, they just wiped the blood off the man’s face, and asked me to take him to the Sassoon Hospital,” he said. Sassoon Hospital is the largest state-run hospital in Pune. At the casualty department, the staff asked Ravindran to search for a stretcher first, even as Khairnar was losing blood.

Once Ravindran had found the stretcher, he was asked to first complete formalities related to the admission of the patient before Khairnar could be treated. Since it was a medico-legal case, this included getting a policeman’s signature. All Ravindran had wanted to do was save a life, but the apathy and callousness that he encountered made Ravindran feel like he was almost being penalised instead. Still, Ravindran rushed to do all this, but there was no policeman to be found at his seat for 15 minutes. All this while, the accident victim lay there, untreated. “Later, after this CT scan was done, the hospital staff asked me to clean up the blood and urine of the victim,” remembered Ravindran. “He was very disoriented and had passed urine at the table itself.”

Khairnar did not survive that accident, and Ravindran experienced firsthand why most people think twice before coming to the aid of an accident victim lying at the roadside.

A Law Commission of India report, dated August 2006, states that 50% of all road accident victims could have lived had timely assistance been extended to them. According to a survey conducted between January and March 2013 by SaveLIFE Foundation, whose PIL is responsible for India’s Good Samaritan guidelines, 74% bystanders are unlikely to assist a victim of serious injury, irrespective of whether they are alone at the spot or in the presence of others, regardless of whether there were others on the scene of the accident or not.

The same survey showed that 88% of these respondents were unlikely to assist injured victims because of the fear of legal hassles, including repeated police questioning and court appearances.

Apart from the legal hassles, there are other dangers as well. Rajeev Narayan, also in his 30s, works with an NGO. He claims to have intervened in 30-odd road accident situations to rush victims to hospitals. He said, “At times, the assembled crowd may suspect a Good Samaritan of having caused the accident, in the first place.”

Relating a personal experience, he says he was close to getting beaten up by the assembled crowd who thought he had caused the hit-and-run accident, when all he had been doing was trying to help the victim. “Cries of ‘maaro, maaro’ (‘Hit him, hit him’) emerged from the crowd, and for a moment, I thought I would indeed get beaten up. But, then I stayed assertive, and shouted back at the crowd. That strategy worked,” he said.

In the course of his interventions, Narayan said he has had to shout at hospital authorities and throw the rulebook at them, and even drop names when cops harassed him. He conceded that as someone who works in the social sector, he is more aware than the common man on the street, who may not know what they’re entitled to and what they have a right to do.

It’s this sort of reaction that results in the kind of apathy that is frequently seen in reported cases of road accidents. In July 2015, Vinay Jindal, 20, lost his life in a road accident at the Kasturba Nagar traffic signal in east Delhi. Jindal was on his way to get medicines for his mother. The accident took place less than a kilometre away from his home. A speeding white car rammed into Jindal’s scooter, throwing the young man off. He landed five metres away.

“He bled to death,” said his cousin Mohit. “For nearly ten minutes, no one came to his rescue. The CCTV footage showed that people in cars and bikes slowed down to take a look at him lying on the road, only to speed away in minutes. ” The incident was widely covered by mainstream media. “Had anyone intervened, there was a chance that my brother could have lived. The fact that he bled to death barely a kilometre away from his home is very painful,” said Mohit.

Raise awareness

As per the Good Samaritan guidelines that were approved by the Supreme Court earlier this month, the police cannot compel someone who has helped an accident victim to disclose any personal details, unless they are an eyewitness. A Good Samaritan also is under no compulsion to be an official witness. If they do choose to be a witness, they’re to be treated with care and respect. Also, they will only be required to appear at the police station for a single examination.

With these guidelines in place, people should feel less scared of helping victims of road accidents. However, what is essential is that there be more public awareness. The man on the street needs to know that helping someone will not lead to them being harassed or wrongly implicated in any way. When asked if there was enough awareness, Piyush Tewari, Founder, SaveLIFE Foundation said, “Not yet. It will take a consistent mass media campaign to make ensure that the message regarding these new rights reaches the last mile.”

Timely intervention, awareness of one’s rights as a bystander and a basic knowledge of how accident victims are to be treated right after an accident occurs can save a life. Take for instance what happened to 45-year-old businessman, Dinesh Tiwari.

In 2014, on a Sunday morning, Narayan came across a hit-and-run victim, lying on the roadside, surrounded by a crowd. “Some of the people were attempting to make the man drink some water, which could prove to very dangerous, as the victim might just choke,” he said. The man on the road was Tiwari.

Narayan stopped the bystanders from giving Tiwari water and volunteered to take him to a nearby private hospital. Though the hospital initially refused to treat the patient and referred him to AIIMS, Narayan got into a fight with them and eventually was able to get Tiwari treated, albeit after a delay of 30 minutes.

Unlike Khairnar, Dinesh Tiwari lived to tell the tale.

Rajeev Narayan (R) with Dinesh Tiwari (L). In 2014, Narayan’s timely intervention in a road accident helped save Tiwari’s life.

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