In the aftermath of a number of astounding reports pertaining to increasing number of road accidents in India and the abstention of bystanders in helping victims, due to fear of being subject to procedural hassles, a much needed PIL was filed by the SaveLIFE Foundation. The PIL, filed under Article 32 of the Constitution addressed the urgency of giving adequate protection to the bystanders of road accidents from coercion, harassment, and intimidation, as well as to ensure effective trauma services across the country.
A report by the Law Commission of India highlighted, that 50% of people who died in road crashes could be saved if immediate medical care was given to them in the ‘golden hour’ i.e. the first hour. A nation-wide survey conducted by SaveLIFE Foundation also revealed that 3 out of 4 people hesitated in assisting victims of road crashes. In order to give assurance to the bystanders from being engulfed into the systemic impediments , the Supreme Court in a landmark judgement on 4th March 2016, made the Good Samaritan guidelines and SOP’s binding on all states and union territories in India (under Article 141 and 142 of the Indian Constitution i.e. inherent powers of the Supreme Court )
The bystanders can play a pivotal role in kick-starting the ‘chain of survival’, involving 3 essential stages in the care of a trauma victim i.e. bystander care, ambulatory care and in-hospital care. With the binding guidelines of the Supreme Court , a bystander need not worry about the procedural hurdles and harassment anymore.
The police cannot force any Good Samaritan to disclose any personal details, like address, contact number etc. No person who has reported a road accident or assisted the victim in any other way can be compelled to act as an eye witness or be summoned against his wish. Even after a person agrees to act as a witness, the investigation should be conducted by the police, according to the time and place comfortable for the Good Samaritan. In event of the need of carrying out the investigation in the police station itself , the police, in writing, must state the reasons for doing so. If the individual, by choice, decides to visit the police station for investigation, then the procedure should be completed in a single examination, within a definite frame of time.A Good Samaritan, shall under no circumstances, be subject to any discrimination by virtue of his caste, religion, sex, race, or on any other grounds.
While the judgement of the apex court is a major humanitarian leap in safeguarding the citizens in getting embroiled in complicated and harassing legal procedures which deter them from coming forward to extend help to victims, the implementation of this law, still remains a major challenge. Since, health, lower judiciary and police are essentially state subjects, so state laws have a major role to play in effective implementation and improving accountability. For effectual changes at the ground level, it is also imperative that the common man is aware of the magnanimity of his role in saving the life of his fellow citizens.