Make In India: A 911 Emergency  Service
By Sanjay Pinto

Three questions. Do you remember all your  passwords? For your net banking transactions, to alter your profile, for your debit and credit cards, your email ID s, mobile PIN…the list can be quite endless. Now,do you remember all the helplines that exist?  Apart from 100 for the Police, you may still be confused between 101 and 102 for Fire & Ambulance, or whether you need to dial 108 for a medical emergency, or individual hospital hotlines, not to speak of helplines for Senior Citizens, Child Abuse and all the myriad situations we may find ourselves in. Passwords are like helplines. There are too many. And most of us cannot remember them all. I know of folks who cannot remember their own mobile numbers, not to mention that of their wives. Forgetting your wedding anniversary is no longer a sin! So tell me, what’s a more urgent need in our country – the much hyped Aadhaar or a nationwide toll free emergency number like 911 that even a child in distress can dial and get help? No matter what the emergency is – medical, security threat, fire or natural disaster, it’s about time we had a common number that delivers express  relief.

I know they are just TV serials, but when I watch Chicago Fire or Chicago Med, the alacrity and competence with which the emergency response teams function makes me wonder why we cannot have something just as efficient in India. That such  missions are not just reel was proved when an airplane crashed into the Hudson River many years ago and the heroic rescue of every single passenger that took place for the world to see. And learn from. We have no dearth of bravehearts in our country – from Police Commandos to Firemen to our National Disaster Response Force. I have seen even District Collectors wading through neck deep water during the tsunami to save lives. We just need a coordinated effort to put together a crack team that can respond to any SOS call from a citizen in the most remote corner of the country in seconds or minutes.

Just recently, I faced a medical emergency at home. The living example of a former colleague who suffered a heart attack but drove to the hospital clutching his chest instead of waiting for an ambulance, came to my mind. What also popped up were legitimate doubts that any of us reading this column would face. Would the power go off when you hurry down the elevator, true to Murphy’s Law, or should you play it safe and scurry down the stairs? Would some irresponsible soul have parked a vehicle right outside your gate? Would the pharmacy deliver a life saving medicine on time, at least as fast as a pizza?  If the emergency is past midnight, would a specialist doctor be available 24×7 to plunge into action rightaway? Or would we be faced with a mere ‘duty doctor’ who will have to diagnose the symptoms and wake up the right specialist? Would his phone signal be available? When the specialist give instructions on the phone or would he rush to begin an operation or a surgery? Would your mediclaim cashless hospitalisation card be accepted? Or should you run to an ATM to withdraw money for an advance deposit at the hospital? Would the ATM have cash? Or would your card get stuck inside? Gosh, someone can make a movie on this theme.

We are all so eager to enrol our kids in karate, dance, singing classes or cricket coaching. What about First Aid? How many of us know how to administer Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)? How many of us are wondering just what that medical jargon means? We engage (and I plead guilty too)  in meaningless debates on whether Sanskrit should be taught in schools or not. On what syllabus is best suited for our children. On entrance tests. Not a squeak about making a life saving skill like making First Aid a mandatory subject in our schools? Where’s our grand ordinance power?

How many of us motorists automatically give way for an ambulance? Do we need a cop at every signal or intersection to physically clear the path? If the Chennai Police can have a green corridor for ambulances carrying human organs for transplants, if Bengaluru can come up with helicopters to beat the traffic from the airport to the city, and if politicians can hold up traffic for their cavalcades to pass, why can’t ambulances be enabled to breeze through traffic? I know there will always be folks who may misuse such facilities but we must devise a way to deal sternly with such miscreants.

Talking of admission in hospitals, I have seen first-hand, sterling examples of ‘Service First’ at even private hospitals like Kauvery in Chennai, where they don’t insist on any payment before starting treatment. Humane treatment in a corporate hospital need not be an oxymoron. No money can buy the blessings of patients whose lives were saved.

The Supreme Court’s directive ‘Medical Attention First, Legal Formalities Later’ in accident cases, is still not always adhered to. And talking of mediclaim, I know of cases where senior citizens are discriminated against – higher premium, no policy after the age of 75, only 70% of the policy can be utilised and further exclusions and caps on the most common reasons for hospitalisation like cardiac ailments. For all you know, investing money every year towards your personal medical fund in a fixed deposit may be a better idea than pleading for settlement of a medical insurance claim. I have also heard of cases of hospitals jacking up rates for ‘insurance patients’.

If are to truly be a Welfare State, the Right To Life under Article 21 of the Constitution, must be held sacred. For infants who need oxygen in hospitals to the youth to the middle aged to senior citizens. Because wealth cannot be health. 

(Sanjay Pinto is a Lawyer at the Madras High Court, a Columnist, Author, TV Political Commentator, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor of NDTV 24×7)