[op-ed snap] Good Samaritan Law: protecting the ‘good’ in us

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Mains Paper 2: Governance|  Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much.

Mains level: The newscard discusses issues in the implementation of Good Samaritan Law, in a brief manner.


Context

  1. As per figures from the ministry of road transport and highways, the number of people killed in road crashes in India in 2017 was 147,913 or 405 deaths every day.
  2. Most importantly, the 201st report of the Law Commission of India states that 50% of those killed in such crashes could have been saved if timely medical care had been provided to them.

Background

  • Good Samaritan is“A person who, in good faith, without expectation of reward and without any duty of care or special relationship, voluntarily comes forward to administer emergency care to an injured person.”
  • Not only can such people invoke the official systems of care by making that all-important phone call but they can also play a game-changing role in saving lives of victims by providing them first-aid or simply through words of comfort.
  • In many areas, where police or ambulance response may be weak, such persons can even help rush the victim to the nearest hospital.
  • In 2016, in a landmark judgement in the case of SaveLIFE Foundation versus Union of India, the Supreme Court instituted a Good Samaritan Law to insulate such persons from legal and procedural hassles that have traditionally followed the act of helping an injured person.

Issues

  1. Awareness about rights
  • 84% of the people recently surveyed by SaveLIFE Foundation across 11 cities in India were unaware of the Good Samaritan Law.
  • It was found that even though general willingness to help road crash victims has increased from 26% in 2013 to 88% in 2018, yet in terms of concrete action, only 29% were willing to escort the victim to the hospital, 28% were willing to call an ambulance and only 12% said that they would call the police.
  • Challenges such as lack of awareness about rights and fear of police investigations or other legal hassles continue to keep a majority of people from coming forward.
  1. Implementation maze
  • A massive gap exists between the law and its on-ground implementation. The law explicitly instructs police and hospitals to allow Good Samaritans to keep their anonymity and minimize procedural hassle.
  • However, over half (57%) of the medical professionals surveyed and almost two-thirds (64%) of the police officials interviewed still ask for the personal details of the people bringing the injured to hospitals.
  • The study also revealed that most of the health professionals and police personnel interviewed had not received any priming on implementing the Good Samaritan Law.
  • None of the hospitals and police stations surveyed had displayed a charter of rights for Good Samaritans, as mandated by the Supreme Court judgement.
  1. Neglection of SC guidelines
  • The Supreme Court judgement in the Good Samaritan Law clearly states that “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 doesn’t desire to be a witness in the matter”.
  • The study revealed that 59% of the surveyed Good Samaritans reported that they were detained by the police, despite the law.

Way forward

  • To address these gaps, state governments must actively translate the judgement into state-specific Good Samaritan laws in order to establish implementation mechanisms for the law, including effective grievance redressal systems and reward and recognition schemes for Good Samaritans.
  • The state of Karnataka recently took this step, proving that states can indeed proactively work to protect their Good Samaritans.
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