New Delhi: Harjinder Singh, a 76-year-old auto rickshaw driver, is pleased that people will have to pay a hefty fine for violating traffic rules under the new Motor Vehicles Amendment Act. The new law, which came into force on September 1, aims at stricter punishment for speeding, drunk driving, jumping traffic signals and driving without a seat belt.
Singh has witnessed numerous accidents on Delhi roads where people have been grievously injured. From an elderly man who was thrown away when a speeding car hit his scooter to a young boy being hit by a vehicle while crossing the road — the examples are many.
But Singh is among the few who stop to help the accident victims. Without wasting time, he transports them to the nearest hospital in his ‘auto ambulance’ free of cost.
Singh told Gulf News, “I have been driving an auto-rickshaw since 1964 when there was very little traffic. Development has brought along some ills and I often find accidents happening across the city.”
WHAT APPALLS SINGH?
“It never ceases to shock me seeing people’s behaviour in times of emergency. As an accident victim lies on the road soaked in blood and crying for help, a large crowd gathers, but only rarely someone comes forward to help. Earlier, people were afraid of getting into a legal hassle; still, after the 2016 Supreme Court directions that the police will not harass anyone who volunteers to help the accident victim, nothing has changed.
“People continue to remain insensitive. Only their focus has shifted. Instead of being mute spectators, they now make videos or click photos on their camera phones. Many times, I have begged people to at least assist me in picking up the victims, so that I can take them to the hospital,” he shares.
NUMBER OF ROAD FATALITIES
According to statistics, in 2018, India recorded 149,000 road accident deaths.
The octogenarian has helped hundreds of accident victims since he became a traffic police warden. “It began in 1978 when Delhi witnessed major floods. The Bhai Kanhaiya Brigade (an organisation run by the Sikh community across the country) set up health camps in the city to assist the flood-affected people. It became a major motivating factor in my life and I decided to continue doing seva (service) in whichever way I could,” Singh says.
When the police learnt about his initiative of the free auto ambulance service, they appointed Singh as traffic police warden. (He’s even authorised to guide the traffic in case of a logjam). Ever since, he has received numerous commendation certificates — both from the police as well as the hospitals where he admits road accident victims. His timely assistance has saved numerous lives. But Singh says, “I have not kept track of the number of people saved. That was never the aim.”
IS HE TRAINED TO HELP?
“Initially, I would just transport the victims to nearby hospitals. But later, I underwent training to acquire knowledge of administering first-aid. I know that ‘The Golden Hour’ is key. It means providing assistance to road accident victims within the crucial one-hour. We often hear doctors say that if brought to the hospital in time, many lives would have been saved.
“Now, I have fixed a first-aid box in my auto-rickshaw. And if I find the victim is bleeding, I immediately provide medical assistance and then rush him to the hospital. The first-aid civil defence training centre at Sujan Singh Park awarded me after I trained on several medical emergencies and orthopaedics related issues. I feel proud to say that to-date all victims I admitted into hospitals, survived.
WHAT’S IN THE FIRST-AID BOX?
Singh keeps basic emergency requisites such as antiseptic lotion and cream, cotton, bandage, band-aid and basic over-the-counter medicines. Since his driver’s uniform would get stained with blood on picking up the victims from the road, he now stores a washable plastic sheet that covers his clothes. And also a sheet to cover the seat of his auto rickshaw.
Another remarkable thing about Singh is that immediately after admitting the injured into the emergency ward, he tries to call up the person’s family members. “In some cases, I have even gone to their residence to inform them. I believe, no one should lose a valuable life due to my negligence. Every time I help someone, they become my family and in return, I receive lots of blessings,” he says.
ANOTHER FORM OF SOCIAL SERVICE
The septuagenarian’s social work is not restricted to helping accident victims. His contact number and details, written on the back of his auto, have proved a boon for many. Singh provides free ‘ayurvedic’ medicinal herbs to patients. He spends one-tenth of what he earns daily on medicines — often visiting Patiala city in Punjab to get authentic herbs for various treatments. Even the donations that he gets from people, is put back into ‘seva’.
“People save my number and call up whenever they need medicines for diabetes or other such illnesses. Either they pick up medicines from my residence in Bhajanpura in north-east Delhi, or I note the address and whenever I am in the vicinity, deliver them at their doorstep for free,” he says.
India does not have an established medical emergency response system, which leads to hundreds of avoidable deaths every year. But Singh, with his simple and clear fundamental, is trying to change the system. “I cannot lecture the commuters on their wait-and-watch approach, but I shall continue helping people for the rest of my life,” he states.