The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the government to issue an order within three months to insulate from legal and procedural hassles those who come to the aid of road-accident victims.
The court’s move will not only save precious lives but also encourage people to help accident victims. India has one of the highest numbers of road fatalities in the world. As many as 137, 576 people died in accidents in 2013 -- 380 deaths a day, road ministry data says.
A person taking the injured to hospital will not be questioned and allowed to leave immediately once the government issues the order. An eye-witness informing the police about an accident will not be forced to reveal identity. Such people will also be exempted from civil and criminal liability, the Centre told the court.
The guidelines are among the various recommendations that a court -appointed panel made to the government, which has accepted them. The panel’s brief was to suggest how police and judiciary could prevent the harassment of road accident’s witnesses.
Fear of harassment at the hands of the police and the slow pace of judicial system often discourage witnesses from reporting accidents and taking the victims to hospital. There is no provision in law to insulate such people from prolonged legal formalities.
The order, issued on a PIL filed by SaveLIFE Foundation, an NGO working towards road safety, is being seen as the first step towards a witness protection programme, a demand often made by activists and legal experts to stop witnesses from resiling out of fear.
The eyewitness must be questioned only once and within 60 days, the panel has recommended. Technology, such as video conferencing, should be used to examine a witness. Strict action would be taken against officials who fail to abide by the guidelines.
Hospitals will not to ask for admission fee or costs from those bringing in accident victims. Hospitals will also have to set aside at least a minimum of 2% of profits to provide free-of-cost treatment to the injured.
“We welcome the order and hope that the Government of India will not only issue an executive order, as directed by the court, but also introduce a good samaritan law to provide legislative backing to the guidelines,” said Piyush Tiwari of SaveLIFE.