Product Liability law in India
LIABILITY FOR MANUFACTURING OR DISTRIBUTING A DEFECTIVE PRODUCT IN INDIA
In India, Product liability law, also called “products liability”, governs the liability of manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, and vendors for injury to a person or property caused by dangerous or defective products. The goal of product liability laws is to help protect consumers from dangerous or defective products, while holding manufacturers, distributors, and retailers responsible for putting into the market place products that they knew or should have known were dangerous or defective.
Civil Product liability in India is, essentially, governed by
a) The Consumer Protection Act, 1986
b) The Sales of Goods Act, 1930
c) The Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1969 (hereinafter referred to as the “MRTP Act”)
d) The law of Torts.
e) special statues pertaining to specific goods
The laws relating to product liability, in India, have been constantly evolving, by way of judicial interpretations and amendments, to become one of the most important socio-economic legislations for the protection of consumers. The legislation, in respect of product liability in India, though was enacted to protect the interest of consumers but the same was, earlier, construed narrowly, thereby frustrating the object sought to be achieved. The trend, however, has changed in the recent times with the Courts adopting a pro-consumer approach. The Courts, in India, have now started awarding compensation and damages which are more punitive than compensatory in nature.
In Wheels World vs. Pradeep Kumar Khurana MANU/CF/0280/2002 the complainant, a doctor by profession, complained to the respondent about deficiency in service in not repairing, free of charge, a technical fault, which occurred during warranty period, in his new Montana car and then not delivering the same for a period of 4 years. A sum of Rs. 30, 000/- with interest @ 18% per annum from 2/7/1988 to 7/5/1992, was awarded as compensation, in favour of the complainant for his suffering, both professionally and otherwise, on account of non availability of car for a period of 4 years. Further interest, at the same rate for the same period, was also awarded on an amount of Rs. 82, 000/-, being the price of the car as well as an amount of Rs. 55, 00/- towards costs and, last but not the least, an amount of Rs. 50, 000/-, which was deposited by the Respondent on account of stay of imprisonment, was also awarded to the petitioner.
The product liability law, in India, apart from the civil liability, also imposes criminal liability in case of non-compliance with the provisions of each of the below mentioned Acts. The said Acts are in addition to and not in derogation of any other laws in force, which implies that an action imposing penal liability can be simultaneously initiated along with a claim under civil law. Some of these are special Acts pertaining to sale of specific goods such as food, drugs, cosmetics etc.. The provisions of these enactments are preventive in form , though the relief envisaged is an action for breach in civil or criminal court.
· The Foods Adulteration Act, 1954
· The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006
· The Drug & Cosmetics Act, 1940
· The Indian Penal Code, 1860
· The Standards of Weights and Measures Act, 1956
· The Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marking) Act, 1937 for marking and grading of commodities like vegetables, butter, etc.
· The Indian Standards Institution (Certification Marks) Act , 1952 to formulate a number of standards for different products by ISI
· The Bureau of Indian Standards Act , 1986
Each of the aforesaid Acts provides for imposition of fine and/or imprisonment in case of supply of defective products or adulterated consumables.
The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 is the most recent legislation which comprehensively deals with food and safety standards which are to be complied with by manufacturers and producers, non-compliance of which imposes a liability, upon defaulters, of fine, extending upto Rs. Ten Lakhs and/or imprisonment.
The provisions of Indian Penal Code (IPC), on the other hand, in respect of product liability, are attracted when the element of cheating and fraud can be attributed to such defects. For example, in the case of Smt. Uma Deepak v. Maruti Udyog Ltd Ors (2003) CPJ 90(MRTP) the Complainant alleged that the car sold by the opposite party was not only accidental but the price, for the same, was also overcharged. The Court, in response to the allegations made by the complainant, directed arrest of the Directors as well as the manager of the dealers/agents who sold the said defective car to the complainant and remanded them to judicial custody. Subsequent thereto, the said officers of the opposite party were released on bail and were directed to replace the disputed car with a new car.
Provisions of IPC are also attracted to provide punishment to offenders for false weights and measures , adulteration of goods ( food, drugs etc -6 months imprisonment, fine of 1000 rupees or both), and false property marks ( one year imprisonment, fine or both). The period of limitation as per Section 468 of the Criminal Procedure Code is 6 months if offence is punishable with fine only , and one year if offence is punishable with upto one year imprisonment and three years if offence is punishable with imprisonment of above one year and upto three years.
The provisions of the Standards of Weights and Measures Act, 1976 are attracted in case of any false packaging, weight or measure which does not conform to the standards established by or under the said Act and breaches the mandatory declaratory requirements on a package. If any mandatory declaration is found missing on the package a fine of upto 2000 rupees shall be levied as per Rule 39 of the Standards of weights and measures packaged commodity rules.
The Drugs and Cosmetic Act, 1940 also provides for criminal liability for manufacturers and producers of medicinal products or cosmetics etc, which do not adhere to the prescribed standards.