Those who are part of Mumbai’s 130-year-old dabbawalla system rarely have alternative sources of income


Mumbai’s dabbawalas will now be allowed to board the city’s local trains, according to the government’s unlock guidelines. However, these food-delivery personnel’s troubles may not have ended yet.

Over the six months since they stopped deliveries in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, their bicycles have rusted, adding to their expenses even as the customer base shrunk.

“I first used to deliver 25-26 tiffin a day. Now the number is about five. Revenue has gone down. And our cycles have also rusted,” said Shantaram Gargunde, one such dabbawalla.

Since the lockdown, many people have been working from home. Few avail of the tiffin service under the circumstance.  

However, those who are part of the city’s 130-year-old dabbawalla system rarely have alternative sources of income.

“We have rents to pay, our expenses have gone up. I even had to take money from someone to buy phones for my children’s online education,” Shankar Kadam, a dabbawalla, says.  

Five thousand such men deliver 2 lakh tiffin carriers every day around Mumbai. In the past few weeks, though, they have handled a mere 400-500 deliveries.

In its latest Mission Begin Again notification, the Maharashtra government has directed dabbawalas to procure QR codes to access railway stations and trains. This is a hiccup for the food-delivery service.

“We need QR codes to enter the trains. Now there are already over a lakh people waiting to procure QR codes. So how will dabbawalas who stay far off fill the forms for this?” asks Nitin Sawant, a dabbawalla.

Besides, the government has also allowed restaurants, bars, and hotels to open from Monday after a gap of six months, adding to the dabbawalas’ competition.


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