Karnataka Teen Accident: Why We Need To Know About The Good Samaritan Law
It was a case of shocking apathy. Early on Thursday morning, 18-year old Anwar Ali lay profusely bleeding and begging for help on a road in Koppal for almost 25 minutes, after his cycle had been hit by a state-run bus. A lot of people had gathered around, but not one of them bothered to call for help or provide some kind of assistance, choosing instead to take videos and photos of him on their phones. Eventually, a Good Samaritan took him to hospital, but by then it was too late. Anwar Ali had become another statistic on India’s killer roads.
What’s even more tragic is that this could have played out very differently for Anwar.
Koppal is in Karnataka, the only state in India to have passed a Good Samaritan Bill to encourage and protect people who come forward to help victims of road accidents.
Just three days ago, the state had seen an accident where a policeman in Mysuru was left bleeding and trapped in his police vehicle after a collision with a bus. Even there, despite having legal protection, no one came forward to help the accident victim.
Reluctance to Help
A 2013 study done by SaveLIFE Foundation, a road safety NGO, found that only 26 per cent of bystanders in India are likely to help victims of road accidents. The majority would rather not get involved.
This reluctance is one of the biggest reasons for deaths on our roads. Estimates made by India’s Law Commission suggest that 50 per cent of the road fatalities could have been averted had timely medical assistance been given. In fact, the World Health Organisation has said there was very little that even the most sophisticated and well equipped pre-hospital trauma care systems could do if bystanders failed to call for help and provide basic care until assistance arrived.
In India, one of the biggest reasons for this reluctance to help seems to be the fear of getting embroiled in legal hassles. Often, people believe that if they help an accident victim, they would have to bear the medical costs as well.
The Good Samaritan Law
Recognising this problem, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways had issued the Good Samaritan Guidelines in 2015. A year later, in March 2016, the Supreme Court gave these guidelines the force of law. In effect, these meant that anyone who came forward to help out a road accident victim would not face any legal complications. He or she could choose to file a police complaint without letting their identity be known. And more critically, hospitals would be allowed to treat an accident victim even before an FIR was lodged or the victim’s family identified. It was a landmark step to make our roads safer.
While these guidelines exist for the entire country, the state of Karnataka had taken it a step forward by making it a state law.
Unfortunately, early on Thursday morning, on a road in Koppal, it took 25 minutes for a Good Samaritan to step forward. Was it apathy or a simple reluctance to get involved in what could turn out to be a legal case?
“Today’s incident reiterates the fact that it is absolutely necessary that the Union and State Governments run massive campaigns to make people aware that they are now protected by the Supreme Court judgment of March 30, 2016, if they help road accident victims,” says Saji Cherian, Director, Operation, SaveLIFE Foundation.
Read More: Why India Needs The Good Samaritan Law
Interestingly, this still makes helping accident victims voluntary unlike countries like Germany and France, where this is considered to be a legal obligation and while these guidelines are applicable nationwide, there still seems to a lot of confusion around these and the awareness remains minimal.
The challenges for creating this awareness are manifold. Apart from sensitising the general population- even government machinery like the courts, police and medical personnel need to be educated.
Karnataka’s own Good Samaritan Law provides for a reward of ₹1,500, protection from civil and criminal liability, exemption from attendance in police stations and courts for Good Samaritans and makes it compulsory for hospitals and medical personnel to provide first aid to accident victims, with severe penalties for those who do not comply. This is applicable to both private and government hospitals.
The Karnataka government has claimed that it has extensively campaigned to publicise and create awareness about this law as well as the state’s ‘Harish Santwana’ scheme which provides free medical treatment to patients for the first two days after an accident.
“We have advertised it all over the state. Ignorance could be there but there is apathy also because there are recording but not taking victim to the hospital,” Karnataka’s Transport Commissioner, MK Aiyappa, told NDTV, speaking about the Koppal accident.
The Crucial Need for States’ Support
For the proper implementation of the Good Samaritan laws across the country, it is essential that the states formulate laws and policies of their own. This could go a long way in creating awareness and combating reluctance and apathy that exists when it comes to helping road accident victims.
“Given that police, hospitals, and local courts are State subjects under List II of the Seventh Schedule to the Indian Constitution, the guidelines protecting Good Samaritans made binding by the Supreme Court need to be strengthened and provided the force of law through enactment by State Legislatures,” says Piyush Tewari of the SaveLIFE Foundation.
Moving in this direction, the Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister, Manish Sisodia, had announced a Good Samaritan policy to combat “social apathy” towards road accident victims, guaranteeing protection from legal and police harassment for bystanders who come forward to help and a reward of ₹2,000.
While small steps are being taken, what is clear is that India has a long way to go in creating a much-needed behavioural change in its response to accident victims.
(With inputs from Harish PP)