They are known for their crisp white topis, their on-the-dot punctuality and their organisational and logistical skills that could put management students to shame. But like almost all other sections of the city’s population, the politics and paucity of space has also started afflicting the functioning of the unfailing army of city dabbawalas, who satisfy the hunger pangs of lakhs every day. Members of the over 5,000-strong community have written to the authorities at Western Railway (WR) asking them to specially reserve two coaches for them, at least for some hours every day.
On the Central Railway (CR) network, a single coach is reserved for the tiffin carriers for a few hours every day. Far from being appeased by this provision, dabbawalas are now demanding that the WR makes provisions for them, as they claim that most of their customers are distributed along that route.
Subhash Gangaram Talekar, chief promoter of the proposed Mumbai Dabbawala Housing Society, said, “Only 25 per cent of our customers live along the CR route, while the rest are spread out on the western line. We have requested the railway ministry to reserve two compartments only for us, for a few hours every day.” Nearly 3,500 dabbawalas travel by local trains, while the rest walk it or pedal the distances on their bicycles. Over 2 lakh citizens rely on the dabbawalas for their lunch every day.
In the reserved period, only dabbawalas can travel in the specific coach reserved by the railway authorities. Raghunath Medge, President, Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association, said, “It is extremely difficult for our men to carry the dabbas and ply in the luggage compartment. Other passengers always fight with us. They put their legs on the dabbas, which contain food. How much can we do to protect the food entrusted to us from other passengers?”
The dabbawalas’ campaign for more space was flagged off years ago. They had written to the former railway minister Lalu Prasad Yadav as well as the state government asking for space to be reserved for them for a few hours in the luggage compartment. “We just want the compartment to be reserved for us for a few hours, to avoid the terrible inconvenience. We have no idea why the WR authorities are not granting us this request,” said Talekar, adding that a meeting has been scheduled for next week, where they hope to convince the powers that be. Nine-coach local train have two luggage compartments each, while 12 coach rakes come with three luggage compartments. The 15 car rakes plying only on the WR line come with four luggage compartments.
Sharat Chandrayan, chief PRO, WR, said, “We have increased the number of luggage compartments in rakes, and we now have four luggage coaches in the 15-car rake. However, we will look into their demands.” A K Singh, PRO, CR, said, “In response to a demand placed by them, we have reserved a coach for a few hours. In that particular window, only dabbawalas are allowed to board the luggage compartments. If other passengers are found, they have to pay a fine. We conduct surprise checks.”
Ankita Sharma, who receives her dabba every day, said, “Separate space is a necessity for dabbawalas in the Mumbai local trains. They are giving exemplary services punctually, and for that, the railways should grant them the reservation they are asking for.” Venkat S, another customer who stays alone in the city and relies on the tiffin services for his daily grub, said, “They are perfect in timing — my tiffin unfailingly reaches on time. They should be given special privilege for their efforts. Their tiffin carriers are big in size and others get affected too.”
The number of dabbawalas in the city
No of customers they cater to daily
No of dabbawalas travelling by local train