Policy Pulse reached out to Piyush Tewari, Founder & CEO, SaveLIFE Foundation to understand what prompted the PIL to protect Good Samaritans and how the NGO hopes it will encourage people to proactively help victims
Did any specific incident trigger you to submit the Good Samaritan PIL in court?
On 5th April 2007, my 16-year-old cousin, Shivam, was hit by a car and grievously injured. For 45 minutes he lay unattended on the road, bleeding profusely. No one came forward to help and he bled to death. This tragedy cruelly brought a growing menace to my attention—the lack of emergency medical assistance for road mishap victims in the country.
The Law Commission of India in its 201st report noted that ‘Passers-by who witness accident fear harassment by police and are not willing to take the victim to hospital or report to the police (sic).’ Right to Life and Liberty guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution of India includes the right for safety of persons while travelling on roads, and right to immediate medical assistance being made available in the event of an accident. One should not be harassed for an act, which can save innocent lives. In the absence of a law that protects good samaritans, SaveLIFE Foundation (SLF) and I, filed a PIL in the Supreme Court of India in May 2012, asking for a supportive, legal and ethical environment for bystanders to assist the injured, which can save over 70,000 lives in our country.
Do you think the ‘Nirbhaya case’ - Jyoti Singh’s friend Awnindra Pandey spoke out about the fact that they were not helped by people standing around as they lay severely injured in Mahipalpur - have any influence on the judgment?
A tragedy like Jyoti’s was a testimony to the fact that bystanders are hesitant to help not because they are apathetic, but for fear of ensuing legal and procedural hassles. It is only in the case of road accidents and violence, like Jyoti's case, that people are afraid to come forward. In fact, SLF 2014 national report titled ‘Impediments to Bystander Care in India’, revealed that 3 out 4 people are reluctant to help injured on roads. For 88% of the people unlikely to respond, their reluctance stemmed from a fear of being dragged into protracted police investigations and legal proceedings.
Jyoti’s case was not a one-off case. The overwhelming evidence our team had gathered from across India, strongly suggested the public hesitation in coming forward to help injured persons. The growing public outcry and significant evidence contributed toward making a strong appeal for protective framework, which would encourage people to come forward to help injured people on roads.
Is there any mechanism to check if hospitals and police personnel are getting informed and will implement this law?
There are several steps that SLF is taking to ensure that all the authorities, including the general public, is informed about this new law. SLF has established an online complaint system where people can share their stories and file complaints, in case they have been victims of harassment while helping an injured. We have also initiated a mass awareness campaign to ensure this information reaches everyone. In order to notify the State machinery, SLF has written to all the Chief Secretaries of States and Union Territories, including Secretaries in the Department of Home, Health and Transport. We have been constantly engaging with the Medical Associations and have also shared a citizen charter with them that outlines the rights of Good Samaritans and duties of hospitals, which can be displayed at all the hospitals/institutions.
Given that Police, hospitals and local courts are State subjects under List II of the Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution, the SC judgment can be translated into State Good Samaritan law, which will ensure a mechanism for implementation and accountability.
Will MoRTH or any other Ministry run ads for greater dissemination of this new law?
The Supreme Court has directed that the Central Government must widely publicize the scheme and the judgment through electronic and print media for the benefit of public. The next step would be for the Central and State governments to execute a consistent mass media campaign to ensure that the SC judgment reaches the last mile and people are made aware about their newly obtained rights.