What is product liability?

Product liability refers to the responsibility of the product manufacturer or seller to compensate for the harm caused to the customer due to a defect in the product or deficiency in service(( Section 2(34), Consumer Protection Act, 2019.)). The harm caused can include issues such as personal injury, mental distress, death, damage to property, breach of contract, etc(( Section 2(22), Consumer Protection Act, 2019.)). For example, if an online food product causes health issues or is highly adulterated, a consumer can file a complaint to bring about a product liability action against the seller(( Section 83, Consumer Protection Act, 2019)). A complaint can be filed against the product manufacturer, the seller and the service provider in such cases.

Instances of product liability (( Section 84, Consumer Protection Act, 2019.))

  • When the product has a manufacturing defect or is not good enough
  • Where the manufacturing of the product did not conform with manufacturing specifications
  • Modification or alteration in the product that has caused the harm(( Section 86(b), Consumer Protection Act, 2019.))
  • The product has a design, testing or packaging defect
  • Inadequate instructions or warnings as to the usage of the product bought1
  • Product that does not conform with the express warranty or guarantees mentioned


  1. Section 86(e), Consumer Protection Act, 2019. []

What are services?

Service means any activity made available to people, and it can include facilities related to banking, financing, insurance, transport, processing, provision of electrical or other energy, telecom, boarding or lodging, housing construction, entertainment, amusement or the relay of news or other information(( Section 2(42), Consumer Protection Act, 2019.)).

‘Services’ include any activities carried out by one person for another, in return for some payment or other benefits such as gift vouchers, as part of an offer, etc. For instance, activities like haircuts, medical check-ups, packing-and-moving services, flour mills, massages, watch-repairs, etc. for payment would be considered as services. Broadly, it can be said that services include:

  • Business services: Business services are services that support the daily functioning and activity of any business, such as technological setup, website hosting, call centers, banking, transport service, telecom etc.
  • Personal services: Personal services are usually more individualistic in nature, such as catering, hotel accommodation, medicine, painting, sculpting etc.
  • Social services: Social services are usually funded by the Government, and include services such as housing, medical care to the underprivileged, primary education etc.

Services that are free of charge

Further, services that are free of charge(( Section 2(42), Consumer Protection Act, 2019.)),  are usually not covered under consumer protection laws(( Joint Labour Commissioner and Registering Officer and Another v. Kesar Lal, AIR 2020 SC 2596.)). In other words, unpaid services which are provided informally, rather than with an expectation of a fee, are not covered under consumer protection law. For example, if someone goes to a doctor for a medical check-up, but being an acquaintance, the doctor does not charge any fee, the patient cannot later sue the doctor for any deficiency of service, as it had been provided free of charge. However, a traveller buying a ticket for a train is a consumer, and can sue the railways for any deficiency of service including bad food service, bad hygiene standards etc((Commentary on Consumer Protection Act, National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, accessed at, http://ncdrc.nic.in/bare_acts/1_1_2.html.


What are Public Utility Services?

Public utility services are facilities provided by the Government, which are essential to a citizen’s needs. For instance, these services include, the supply of water to homes, supply of electricity, the postal system, the banking system, railways, etc. The consumer protection law enables consumers to file complaints about these public utility services.

Examples of public utility services

Some examples of public utility services include(( Section 22A(b), Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987.)):

  • Transport service for carrying passengers or goods by air, road or water
  • Postal services
  • Telephone services
  • Power facilities
  • Lighting facilities
  • Water facilities
  • Insurance service

The law recognizes public utility services as “establishments” under the law. This means that the local branch offices of a public utility service which are establishments, can be held liable in the same way as its main central authority. For example, if one has a complaint against the local water department, one can file a complaint against the local/district department itself, and not against the Central Water Commission. Other than the mainstream consumer protection laws in India, Permanent Lok Adalats can also be approached to request for good standards of public utility services at a district level(( Section 22B, Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987.)).

Complaint Mechanisms

Obstructing or not providing a public utility service

If someone is obstructing, stopping or not providing you with a public utility service, you can file a complaint with the National Government Services Portal. The Portal, though not exclusively dedicated to consumer services, has a wide range of public services against which consumers can file grievances. Issues such as commodity rates (prices of gold, silver etc.), monitoring ration cards, etc. can easily be done by visiting the National Government Services Portal.  Among other things, the portal provides a user with information on the consumer complaint forum, state- wise break up on details of the Public Distribution System etc. Even complaints about the Bureau of Indian Standards can be filed here. This means that consumers can file a complaint about the quality of a BIS-certified product, Hallmarked products, misleading advertisements about the BIS standard, etc.(( Consumer Protection, Bureau of Indian Standards, accessed at https://bis.gov.in/other/consumer_affairs.htm#:~:text=%2D%20Through%20Online%20Complaint%20Registration%20on,Head%20(Consumer%20Affairs%20Department).))

Postal, telecom and banking services

The Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances’ (CPGRAMS) portal is very useful to file complaints about  postal services, telecommunication, banking services, insurance services, school and education, road transport, natural gas, etc.

  • The postal department deals with issues such as delay, non-delivery, pensions, insurance (postal service), corruption charges, e-commerce related problems, AADHAR related issues, etc.
  • The telecom department deals with issues related to mobile, broadband, landline, pension, employee, malpractices and corruption. Complaints about telecom facilities can be filed at the telecom grievance portal.
  • The banking and insurance division deals with issues related to bank lockers, deficiency in customer service, education and housing loans, NBFCs, Pradhan Mantri schemes, fraud, mobile banking, misappropriation, harassment, loan settlement, etc. Complaints about banking facilities can be filed at the RBI complaints portal. Complaints can also be filed to the Banking Ombudsmen, who are senior officials appointed by the RBI to redress customer complaints against deficiency in certain banking services.

Water, sanitation and electricity

Some states such as Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh have implemented electricity call services for making complaints about electricity service. For complaints related to water services, customers can lodge  grievances  at the  Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation grievance portal.

The issues listed above are only indications of the kinds of complaints that can be made, and it is not an exhaustive list.

What are Goods?

Goods include anything other than money, that is manufactured or produced for consumption by people(( Section 2(7), Sale of Goods Act, 1930)). As per the consumer protection law, goods refer to all movable property, including food.(( Section 2(21), Consumer Protection Act, 2019.)) Based on how a good is used, there are two types of goods:

  • Capital goods: Capital goods are used to produce other goods and services. For example, heavy machinery in a factory.
  • Consumer goods: Consumer goods are meant for direct consumption. In other words, consumer goods are not used for creating new goods.

Consumer protection laws apply to consumer goods and not capital goods(( Section 2(7)(i), Consumer Protection Act, 2019; Section 2(d)(i), Consumer Protection Act, 1986.)). An airplane may be a capital good when used by an airline company to provide the service of transportation, and it could be a consumer good when flown for personal pleasure. The Government controls the production and sale of capital goods in the public’s interest, for which it may even regulate or prohibit production of goods as needed. For example, petroleum production, sale and pricing(( Essential Commodities Act, 1955; Prevention of Black marketing And Maintenance of Supplies of Essential Commodities Act, 1980)).