While India has the second largest road network of 4,320,000 kilometers, it also has a high incidence of highway accidents. What could be more appropriate than have a highway rescuer or a highway helpline number for timely rescue operations? One such messiah, well-known highway rescuer, and 2017 Padma Shri Award winner, who is making India’s highways safe, is Dr. Subroto Das.
In 1999, when Dr. Subroto with his wife Sushmita and a friend met with a car accident on the Ahmedabad-Vadodra highway, hitting a tree on a rainy night, they were left without help for 5 long hours. Dr. Subroto managed to get out but could not pull out his co-passengers. Though he waved to every passing car, no one stopped to help him until the next morning when a milkman on a bullock cart took him to the nearest police station. Yes, that’s the sad truth on Indian roads where people are scared to stop and help due to lengthy police formalities. Luckily, Dr. Das and his wife and friend lived to tell the story.
What spurred a highway rescue operation movement?
Recovering from the accident and being egged on by Sushmita to do something for accident victims, Dr. Subroto Das took upon the challenge. Being a doctor himself, he was aware of the Golden Hour Rule – receive medical attention within the first hour of the accident to get that one chance for survival and recovery.
India’s roadways which total around 4,320,000 kilometers consist of-
Expressways: 1,000 km
National Highways: 79,243 km
State Highways: 1,31,899 km, and
Other major roads.
With 50% of our roads being highways, it contributes to almost 1.5 lakh deaths each year due to road traffic crashes. Highway accidents occur mainly due to speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol, not wearing seat-belts or helmets, and unsafe vehicles.
For almost two years after Dr. Das and Sushmita first came up with the idea, to set up the NGO to save lives on highways, it did not take off the ground for lack of government permissions. Out of sheer frustration, Dr. Das faxed his project proposal to the Prime Minister’s Office when they received a call from the prime minister’s office asking them to meet the NHAI chairman. The reply was, ‘Just go and start the project!’
So, in 2002, Dr. Subroto launched the NGO in Baroda called, ‘Lifeline Foundation’. In August 2002, Lifeline Foundation launched the number 9825026000 for those who were looking for help on the Ahmedabad-Surat highway. As soon as the call was received, the pool of resources which consisted of a network of – the nearest ambulance, a crane service operator, the fire brigade, the police station, all were informed of the location and severity and rushed to the accident site.
In 2007, with the passing of the Gujarat Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Act in 2007, a unified number, 108 was introduced for emergency medical service for all the Gujarat highways. Lifeline Foundation worked closely with decision-makers in the Gujarat state government and the Central Government to establish protocols for Trauma Care.
Lifeline’s ambulances patrol the mapped highways. Their records proved their help teams reached an accident spot in less than 40 minutes. The ambulance team members are specially trained medically and empathetically to assist critically injured people. The NGO also processes the paperwork required at hospitals and police stations while the accident victim is getting medical attention. Lifeline Foundation also guarantees hospital payment in case the accident victim is not able to pay.
Lifeline Foundation earned international acclaim when it got selected as the Award Secretariat for EMS Asia Journal, an official journal of the Singapore based Asian Association for EMS.
The sincerity and success module of the Lifeline Foundation in Gujarat enabled 26 states of India to set up the 108 highway helpline number.
Today the foundation is expecting to take its most successful module to other countries starting with Sri Lanka.
The Man, The Messiah
Today, the man with a mission with his NGO Lifeline Foundation is providing emergency medical services on the highway network in Maharashtra, Kerala, Rajasthan and West Bengal covering over 4,000 kilometers. He has saved over 1200 lives and continues to add another.
He has also appeared on Indian game show Kaun Banega Crorepati to spread awareness on highway safety, winning INR 25,00,000 with Bollywood actress Taapsee Pannu.
It’s only the beginning
108 is just the beginning. Dr. Subroto Das’s next mission is to train 40 percent literate and physically able residents of Baroda, Gujarat to be able to offer bystander CPR (to help a person who suffers cardiac arrest before medical service reaches). In the next 5 years, he hopes to teach more people how to provide emergency First Aid. You don’t need to be a doctor to save a life, you can be any human with basic emergency medical knowledge and it can help save a life.