If the recent government guidelines to the police are followed in letter and in spirit, then Good Samaritans need not fear harassment when they report an accident or take a victim to hospital.
BY AJITH PILLAI
Why are Good Samaritans treated so shabbily in our country? More specifically, why are they viewed with so much suspicion and subjected to harassment by the police? The manner in which a citizen is interrogated after he reports road rage or helps an accident victim has to be seen to be believed. In fact, many people are wary of dealing with law enforcement agencies after hearing the experience of others.
Hopefully, things will change with the central government issuing a standard operating procedure (SOP) on January 21 which the police across the country have been directed to follow while dealing with Good Samaritans.
The notification, issued by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and published in the Gazette of India, is the result of a Supreme Court order of October 2014. In response to a PIL by Save Life Foundation, a Delhi-based NGO which works towards improving road safety and emergency care across India, the apex court ordered the government “to issue necessary directions with regard to the protection of Good Samaritans until appropriate legislature is made by the Union legislature.”
So how wary are do-gooders of the cops? A journalist colleague in Delhi has this incident to narrate. Several years ago, he was involved in a late night road accident which left him injured and helpless. A cycle-rickshaw stopped and rushed him to the nearest hospital.
But having done his good deed for the day, the rickshaw-puller literally ran for his life to “escape” the police. He even refused money that he was offered saying that he had only done his duty as a responsible citizen but did not wish to spend the rest of the night at a police station answering questions or being forced to become a witness to an accident he had not seen.
His fear of harassment is understandable. The common perception is that to be treated politely by the police one has to be a person of some standing and influence. If not, there is even the risk of being charged with a crime you did not commit.
The SOPs in the government notification last month may eventually bring about a change in both the perception of citizens as well as the attitude of the police. Here are some key points in the guidelines that the police are expected to follow:
The police must extend common courtesy to the Good Samaritan and treat him/her with respect and should not discriminate on the basis of nationality, religion, caste, class or gender.
A person calling police control to report an accidental injury or death should not be asked to give name, address and personal details unless he or she wishes to be a witness. Police officials arriving at the scene of an accident should not compel the Good Samaritan to disclose his/her identity in the record form or log register.
The intent of the notification issued by the central government is commendable. But its effectiveness lies in how it is
implemented on the ground.
The option of becoming a witness must rest solely with the Good Samaritan. The police have no right to force a do-gooder to turn a witness.
Even if such a person agrees to be a witness, the notification is clear that he/she must be treated with respect without being discriminated against or humiliated. If statements are recorded at the residence or place of work the investigating officer should call on the witness wearing plain clothes and not in uniform.
If the Samaritan has to be examined at the police station the investigating officer must record in writing the reasons for the summoning. Such an examination must be completed in a single visit and in a reasonable time frame so that it does not interfere with the normal life and work of the do- gooder. Should he/she be unfamiliar with the local language, an interpreter must be arranged.
The intent of the notification issued by the central government is commendable. But its effectiveness lies in how it is implemented on the ground. Much has been said and written about the need to humanize the police force and to improve its public image.
One small step in this direction could be making officers more sensitive when they deal with citizens who come forward to help and offer assistance in the time of an emergency like a road accident. It does not help to intimidate do-gooders.
GUIDELINES FOR HOSPITALS
The Supreme Court order of October 2014 did not focus on the police alone. It also looked at the crucial role hospitals play after an accident. The court’s observations led to the government directing the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on May 12, 2015, to issue guidelines to registered public and private hospitals on dealing with Good Samaritans. The government directive inclu-ded the following:
A Good Samaritan must not be detained. Payment for registration and admission costs must not be demanded from him/her, unless he/she is a family member or relative of the injured.
A doctor refusing to respond in an emergency situation pertaining to a road accident must be seen as “Professional Misconduct” and disciplinary action shall be taken against such doctor under Chapter 8 of the said regulations.
In case a bystander or Good Samaritan so desires, “the hospital shall provide an acknowledgement to such Good Samaritan, confirming that an injured person was brought to the hospital and the time and place of such occurrence and the acknowledgement may be prepared in a standard format by the State Government and disseminated to all hospitals in the State for incentivising the bystander or good Samaritan as deemed fit by the State Government”.
All state governments were asked to issue a notification that categorically states that no do-gooder is harassed or inconvenienced by the hospital authorities for his/her thoughtful act of saving the life of an accident victim.
As for road accidents, all of us who live in urban India know the deaths and injuries caused by them. The statistics are quite frightening (see box). Clearly, road safety must be given more priority than it currently does. Also, victims of accidents need all the assistance they can get. So please do help. And, yes, should the police or hospital authorities harass or intimidate you, remind them that you deserve more respect for being a responsible citizen.