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Good Samaritan Guidelines.

New Delhi, Sept. 19 -- It is painful when one hears about accidents on roads, especially of persons dying on road due to the insensitivity and complacence of passers-by. The accident that took place on August 10 where a man was bled to death on the road in Subash Nagar, West Delhi is still very fresh in our minds. The man was hit by a three wheeler goods career and left bleeding on the road. The CCTV captured the full scene. From 5.40 am, from the moment the man was hit, till 6.09 am, until his friend reached the spot, according to TOI report, 140 cars, 82 three-wheelers, 181 bikers and 45 pedestrians passed by the dying man without even one of them offering help. Five minutes into the accident, it also showed a PCR van on the stretch when the profusely bleeding man was still alive.

Are all citizens so insensitive and indifferent? Some may be. But majority are frightened of legal consequences. I remember when I was addressing a conference in 2015 on "Right to Life" in Hyderabad, a youth asked, "If I carry a victim of accident to a hospital, what will be the legal consequences?" People are more afraid of what happens if the victim dies on the way to hospital. Another fear is that they would be harassed by the police, they have to appear before the courts, they may have to give witness etc.

It cannot be denied that there are socially committed citizens from all walks of life. But their experiences are not very encouraging for others to follow suit. Over the last 30 years, Suraj Prakash Vaid, a Delhi-based tours and taxi operator, has transported over 70 road accident victims to hospital. For his good deeds, he has had to face court hearings on more than one occasion since he was made a witness in several of the cases.

The Law Commission of India observes that 50% of those killed in road accidents could have been saved had timely assistance been rendered to them. A World Health Organisation report claims that "skilled and empowered bystanders play a crucial role in saving lives" and "in order to enable bystanders to come forward and help injured persons, a supportive legal and ethical environment is needed.

Since there is no precise law regarding this matter, Save LIFE Foundation an NGO filed a Public Interest Litigation before the Supreme Court. On the basis of a national study of past cases conducted by it, the foundation submits that three out of four people in India hesitated to come forward and help road accident victims, and that 88% of them had attributed this hesitation to fear of legal and procedural hassles. "These hassles include intimidation by police, unnecessary detention at hospitals and prolonged legal formalities," it said.

Admitting the PIL the Court asked the Centre Government to draft the guidelines. On March 30, 2016 the Supreme Court approved the guidelines issued by the Centre and these Guidelines are called "Good Samaritan Guidelines" and are binding.

Named after the parable in Bible, the guidelines to protect the lives of the victims of accidents, Supreme Court has passed are as follows:

1. The Good Samaritan will be treated respectfully and without any discrimination on the grounds of gender, religion, nationality and caste.

2. Any individual, except an eyewitness, who calls the police to inform them of an accidental injury or death need not reveal his or her personal details such as full name, address or phone number.

3. The police will not compel the Good Samaritan to disclose his or her name, identity, address and other such details in the police record form or log register.

4. The police will not force any Good Samaritan in procuring information or anything else.

5. The police will allow the Good Samaritan to leave after having provided the information available to him or her, and no further questions will be asked of him or her if he or she does not desire to be a witness.

Even when Good Samaritans agree to become witnesses, the guidelines accord them protection and comfort. They ensure that:

1. If a Good Samaritan chooses to be a witness, she will be examined with utmost care and respect.

2. The examination will be conducted at a time and place of the Good Samaritan's convenience and the investigation officer will be dressed in plain clothes.

3. If the Good Samaritan is required by the investigation officer to visit the police station, the reasons for the requirement shall be recorded by the officer in writing.

4. In a police station, the Good Samaritan will be examined in a single examination in a reasonable and time-bound manner, without causing any undue delay.

5. If a Good Samaritan declares himself to be an eyewitness, she will be allowed to give her evidence in the form of an affidavit.

The guidelines also specify that the concerned Superintendent or Deputy Commissioner of Police is responsible in ensuring that all the above-mentioned procedures are implemented throughout their respective jurisdictions. A bench comprising justices V. Gopala Gowda and Arun Mishra directed the Centre to give wide publicity to the guidelines, which clearly stipulate that people who help victims of road accidents or other calamities are not harassed in any way.

Now, a Good Samaritan will no longer have to worry about harassment at hospitals, police stations and courts. The Supreme Court on issued by the Centre for the protection of Good Samaritans at the hands of the police or any other authority. Even if a Good Samaritan wishes to provide his details for the benefit of investigative authorities, he can be examined only on a single occasion within the framework of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) laid down by the Apex Court. Further, the lack of response by a doctor in such cases shall now constitute as "Professional Misconduct" under Indian Medical Council regulations, thereby fixing accountability on doctors as well.

The Supreme Court has given legal teeth to the guidelines as the Centre has always claimed that it has found it difficult to enforce guidelines in the absence of any statutory backing. With the court order, the guidelines and standard operating procedures have become binding in all states and union territories. The onus is now on the state governments and union territories to ensure the implementation of these guidelines. However, since the executive order with the guidelines was not binding on anyone, the Government agreed that the Court could exercise its inherent jurisdiction and make these guidelines binding on all States and Union Territories until a legislation is passed. The Court realized the challenge and used its exclusive powers enshrined in the Constitution to give the guidelines the force of law. A move rarely taken by the Court, its invoking of Article 141 and 142 practically makes these guidelines equivalent to a law.

This judgment, along with the protection it provides, is unprecedented. However, the challenge of implementation still remains. For effective ground-level change, it is imperative that the common man is aware of how crucial he can be in saving a person's life. An online portal, www.goodsamaritanlaw.in, has been launched to inform people of their rights, and act as a mechanism to report any harassment that they face. In order to expand the reach of the Supreme Court judgment, many States are now even warming up to the idea of a State Good Samaritan Law. Considering that police, health and lower Judiciary are State subjects, a State law will contribute towards effective implementation and create a framework of accountability. In fact, Rajasthan and Karnataka have moved swiftly to bring a draft Bill to the forefront.

The SC judgment is historic in many respects. Not only you are now protected by a legal framework, such massive reforms with a focus on public-centric simplification of procedures are a first in post-independent India. With many of our laws, rules and procedures still reeling under a colonial hangover, this issue has fortunately broken itself from inertia.

The guidelines are an interim measure to deal with the issue till the Centre enacts appropriate legislation -but are also a crucial step in that direction. "In order to ensure the effective implementation of the guidelines and SOPs, it is imperative that a comprehensive Good Samaritan law is enacted at the Central and state level," the SC said. Such a legislation, it added, would give legal backing to the guidelines, address the concerns of the Good Samaritans and protect them from all forms of harassment.

Uphold one's Right to Life!

SAVE LIFE, SAVE HUMANITY!

(The writer is an Advocate in the Supreme Court & Founder President of NGO Citizen's Rights Trust.)

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Indian Currents.

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Publication:Indian Currents
Date:Sep 19, 2016
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