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POSITIVE VIBES: Encouraging Bystander Assistance

Supreme Court passes clear guidelines to encourage greater bystander assistance

Nirupama Sekhri
Publish Date: Jun 1 2016 2:55PM | Updated Date: Jun 1 2016 3:14PM

POSITIVE VIBES: Encouraging Bystander Assistance

What stops a sane person from helping a fellow human being lying on the road grievously injured by a speeding vehicle? In our country, the answer to that would be ‘the hazards of getting involved’. The apprehension is not exactly misplaced as cops and hospital staff tend to actually harass anyone who brings in an accident/crime victim for treatment – the least would be a barrage of uncomfortable questions. However, a recent Supreme Court order to protect good Samaritans with clear guidelines has been passed to encourage greater bystander assistance


Bystander behaviour has been an area of interest and concern for law agencies as well psychologists around the world. The chances of survival of a victim, if extended medical aid within the first ‘golden’ hour, are dramatically enhanced. Even in cases of fatal or near-fatal accidents, organs of the victim can give life to others, if taken to a medical facility in time.


Some incidents of bystander apathy have truly shocked and shamed people. Awnindra Pandey, the surviving victim of the 2012 Delhi rape case, had narrated how scores of people collected around them when they (Pandey and his lady friend, the victim Jyoti Singh) were dumped on the roadside, injured and bleeding profusely, but no one came forward to help.


India being one of the countries with the highest numbers of road accidents, the need to allay apprehensions and encourage people to provide assistance without inhibition is even more urgent. In developed countries information and communication systems are much more efficiently in place to support prompt emergency services. However, in countries like ours victims are more dependent on bystanders for help, and sadly often let down. 


SaveLife Foundation, a non-profit, non-governmental organisation submitted a PIL in the Supreme Court in 2012 for concerned Ministries to develop guidelines and standard operating procedures to protect good samaritans who came forward to help accident victims, which should be legally binding across all states and union territories of India.


In response, the Supreme Court set-up an 8-member committee that included key officials from the Ministries of Home Affairs, Health and Family Welfare, Law and Justice and Road Transport, as well as representatives from the Delhi Police and All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). Finally, in March this year, the court passed an order to protect good Samaritans with SOPs for police personnel on their behaviour towards them. However, besides listing extensive directives for police personnel, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has also been asked to issue guidelines for all registered public and private hospitals not to detain good Samaritans or demand payment for registration and admission costs.


Furthermore, the hospitals are also to publish a charter in Hindi, English and the vernacular language of the State or Union territory at their entrance clearly stating that they shall not detain good samaritans or ask them for money to be deposited for the treatment of the victim/s.


It is hoped that with greater awareness and dissemination of this Supreme Court order more people will come forward to help accident victims in distress.   


Good Samaritan SOPs


The Central Government has also issued a Standard Operating Procedure for the examination of Good Samaritans by the Police or during trial and the following are guidelines to remember:


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


2.    Any person who makes a phone call to the Police control room or Police station to give information about any accidental injury or death, except an eyewitness may not reveal personal details such as full name, address, phone number etc.


3.    Any Police official, on arrival at the scene, shall not compel the Good Samaritan to disclose his / her name, identity, address and other such details in the Record Form or Log Register.


4.    Any Police official or any other person shall not force any Good Samaritan who helps an injured person to become a witness in the matter. The option of becoming a witness in the matter shall solely rest with the Good Samaritan.


5.    The concerned Police official(s) shall allow the Good Samaritan to leave after having informed the Police about an injured person on the road, and no further questions shall be asked if the Good Samaritan does not desire to be a witness in the matter.


Examination of Good Samaritan by the Police


1.    In case a Good Samaritan so chooses to be a witness, he shall be examined with utmost care and respect and without any discrimination on the grounds of gender, religion, nationality, caste or any other grounds.


2.    In case a Good Samaritan chooses to be a witness, his examination by the investigating officer shall, as far as possible, be conducted at a time and place of his convenience such as his place of residence or business, and the investigation officer shall be dressed in plain clothes, unless the Good Samaritan chooses to visit the police station.


3.    Where the examination of the Good Samaritan is not possible to be conducted at a time and place of his convenience and the Good Samaritan is required by the Investigation Officer to visit the police station, the reasons for the same shall be recorded by such officer in writing.


4.    In case a Good Samaritan so chooses to visit the Police Station, he shall be examined in a single examination in a reasonable and time-bound manner, without causing any undue delay.


5.    In case the Good Samaritan speaks a language other than the language of the Investigating Officer or the local language of the respective jurisdiction, the Investigating Officer shall arrange for an interpreter.


6.    Where a Good Samaritan declares himself to be an eye-witness, he shall be allowed to give his evidence on affidavit, in accordance with section 296 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (2 of 1974) which refers to Evidence in Formal Character on Affidavit.


7.    The complete statement or affidavit of such Good Samaritan shall be recorded by the Police official while conducting the investigation in a single examination.


8.    In case the attendance of the Good Samaritan cannot be procured without delay, expense or inconvenience which, under the circumstances of the case, would be unreasonable, or his examination is unable to take place at a time and place of his convenience, the Court of Magistrate may appoint a commission for the examination of the Good Samaritan in accordance with section 284 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (2 of 1974) on an application by the concerned.


The Superintendent of Police or Deputy Commissioner of Police or any other Police official of corresponding seniority heading the Police force of a District, as the case may be, shall be responsible to ensure that all the above mentioned procedures are implemented throughout their respective jurisdictions with immediate effect.


Click here for the Interview of Piyush Tewari, Founder and CEO SaveLIFE Foundation