112 emergency line on the cards, but how can we ensure better public safety?

112 – is the new number India is set to adopt as its common emergency call-in number. Any person is distress or in need of services of the police, fire department or ambulance, can soon call this number at any point of time.

Given the state (or lack) of public safety in India, this number will, in all probability, be used very frequently. But will it cover all the services needed by the public? For, after all, public safety is about ensuring the general welfare and protection of the public, isn’t it?

Quoting from the article ‘How to transform public safety in Indiain the Economic Times: “In India, we have multiple public safety agencies like the police for citizen safety and security, fire agency for fire safety; disaster management agencies to handle disasters; multiple public and private emergency management services to handle medical emergencies; NGOs and other agencies for women and child safety; other domestic public safety issues like gas leakage is handled by local gas dealers at city level.”

How 112 would be used will be seen post its implementation across India. Let us however try to understand a little about Public Safety.

Chapter XIV of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) consists of 28 sections (268 to 294A) which discuss eleven principal cases of nuisance that have been made punishable under the Code. These are primarily “Offences affecting the Public Health, Safety, Convenience, Decency and Morals”.

According to Sec 268, a person is guilty of a public nuisance if he/she does any act or is guilty of an illegal omission which causes any common injury, danger or annoyance to the public or to the people in general who dwell or occupy property in the vicinity, or which must necessarily cause injury, obstruction, danger or annoyances to persons who may have occasion to use any public right.

I would be curious to know how often this section is used for public safety.

On the day of writing this post, a Google search on “public safety in India” threw up 4,08,00,000 results. Most of them were news articles; none were of any relevant government websites. Compare this with a search for ‘public safety in Singapore’ – 77,80,000 results with the first result linking to the government site

One can draw various interpretations about this disparity. Let us however not miss the wood for the trees.

What we need to acknowledge is that Public Safety is NOT a trending topic in India except when something drastic takes place – it could be a natural calamity, a rape, a fire or an accident. The predictable response in most such cases which are unfortunately on the rise is that people invariably talk about the event for a few days, express anger against the system / government, and even take to posting their feelings on social media. A few days later they are back to doing what they were doing prior to the event.

Indeed, some legislations are passed, security is tightened for a while, and safety precautions that need to be taken are talked about. However, not much changes at the ground level. Or at least not immediately, and not to a visible extent.

Or not much would, unless you and I, as responsible, law abiding citizens, take matters into our hands.

“Why should we do that?” you ask?

Sample this: In 2014 alone, 4,51,757* Indians died due to accidents. That is an average of 52 Indians dying due to accidents every hour!  Statistics further reveal that a 12.8% rise in death due to accidents has been observed in just one year.

These accidents are a combination of natural and unnatural causes. While natural accidents occur due to forces of nature, it is the deaths due to unnatural causes that should be our focus.

In India, unnatural accidents like road accidents, drowning, accidental fires, falls, electrocution, etc. account for an average of 36 deaths every hour. Such accidents are most often due to negligence – either by various authorities like Water Supply Board, Electricity Department, etc., or by us – ‘the common man’, or both.

Road accidents in 2014 accounted for the largest number of deaths in India.

1,41,526 deaths => 387 lives were claimed on and by our roads each day.

In the same year, fire accidents accounted for 19,513 deaths in our country- 53 lives being needlessly lost to fire each day.

We, the people, are highly vulnerable. We appear to be finding ourselves in potentially dangerous situations every day and irrespective of where we are – travelling on the road, living in our apartments or even while working at a high-rise office.

All is however not lost.

Growing active citizen participation across the country is gradually bringing about some change.

At an individual level though, what is equally important is that, you, as a citizen, must believe that safety is paramount to you and your loved ones.

Don’t wait for the next fatality or serious injury to take care of your safety or that of your family’s. Wear that seat belt, that helmet. Ensure that fire safety norms are followed in your building. Do not speak on the phone while driving.

Simple safety practices may just save your own life or that of a loved one.

Just as a seed has to put in some effort of its own in order to break through the ground before it can grow into a sapling, we too will have to put in some concrete and focused effort in order to bring a change in the system and in our country.

Do think about it.

* Statistics quoted are from the National Crime Records Bureau Report 2014 on Accidental Deaths and Suicides

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