Suraj Prakash Vaid was 24 when he was witness to an accident on Vikas Marg in east Delhi. A speeding car had run over two pedestrians while they were crossing the road. The victims were lying on the road in a pool of blood, writhing in pain and crying for help. A huge crowd had gathered around them. “But none was willing to take them to hospital. With the help of some people in the crowd, I lifted the victims into an auto-rickshaw and took them to the Lok Nayak Hospital,” says Vaid, now 60.
That day, Vaid made it his mission to help accident victims. Vaid, who has worked as a taxi driver and runs a tourist taxi service from Outer Circle, Connaught Place, has steadfastly stuck to his mission. He has helped accident victims reach hospitals over the past three decades. For his efforts, he received dozens of commendation certificates and cash rewards from senior officers of the Delhi police. He was also a runner-up, in the individual category, for a national award on road safety given by the Union ministry of road transport and highways in 2002.
In case of an accident, Vaid rushes to the spot, registers an FIR if the victim is unconscious, makes a call to the police, informs the victim's family, takes the victim to the hospital and appears in courts as witness, if required. He has a formidable file containing photocopies of FIRs that he has lodged in accident cases and medicolegal certificates from city hospitals mentioning him for bringing in accident victims for treatment.
He often gets calls from people, including taxi and auto-rickshaw drivers, informing him of accidents. Several times, Vaid says, he has had to stay away from home the whole night to complete medicolegal formalities after admitting accident victims in hospitals. “Recently, I was on my scooter going to a relative's place to attend a party with sweets when I came across an accident. The biker in front of me was hit by a car, and he had fallen unconscious on the road. I left my scooter and the sweets on the road, and took him to hospital. I had to send someone else to pick my scooter in the night.”
A few months ago, he was driving back home at night when he came across a biker lying in a pool of blood on the Ring Road near Rajghat after he was hit by a Delhi Transport Corporation bus. “I was shocked to see that though the bus was packed with people, none had taken the initiative to take the victim to the hospital. It was almost morning by the time I reached home,” he says, adding that most people don’t come forward to help in accident cases not because they are callous, but because they fear getting entangled in legal proceedings.
“People are generally helpful, but they want some responsible person to take the lead. My experience with both the police and the hospitals has been good. They have always appreciated my efforts,” says Vaid.
He also has several letters of appreciation from people, including foreigners, for helping them find their lost belongings. He shows us a letter of appreciation from a South Korean couple whose bag, containing cash, passports and visas, he helped find after they had forgot it in an auto-rickshaw.
Contrary to popular perception, he says, many auto-rickshaw drivers are helpful and honest. “A lot of them know me and often bring to me what their passengers forget in their vehicles, so that they can be deposited with the police. A family from Raipur recently forgot their bag in an auto-rickshaw. The 70-year-old driver got in touch with me and we deposited the bag with the police. He then insisted that we try to find the owner of the bag. Based on his conversation with his passengers, we were able to locate the couple at Pragati Maidan where they had gone to attend a marriage reception. The couple made a special announcement and introduced us to the entire gathering,” says Vaid, who lives in east Delhi’s Geeta Colony.
Vaid, who has helped over 100 accident victims reach hospitals, says he cannot forget an accident almost 20 years ago involving an army truck and a private car with an NRI family. “I was on my way from Ajmer to Delhi in my taxi. I saw that an army truck had turned turtle after colliding with the car. Five army personnel from the Sikh regiment and five members of the NRI family had been hurt critically. I put all of them in my taxi with some help and drove for two hours to the army hospital in Jaipur. The army gave me a letter of appreciation. A few months later, the NRI family also wrote to me from Canada to tell me that all except one of their family members had survived.”
Vaid is often roped in by the Delhi police to spread awareness about road safety and traffic rules. He says that in Delhi, fatal accidents occur because of factors such as speeding, damaged roads, people sleeping on dividers and footpaths, red lights hidden behind trees at crossroads, road dividers improperly aligned at some red lights and drivers hooked onto their cell phones. “Many pedestrians cross the roads with their earphones plugged in. There should be a law prohibiting people from talking on the phone or using earphones while crossing roads,” he says.
Vaid says what inspires him is the love and affection of the families of accident victims he has helped in the past three decades. “Many of them keep in touch, expressing deep gratitude for helping to save the lives of their near and dear ones. There is no satisfaction greater than this for me,” he adds.