Small World

A Tech Revolution for the Dabbawala

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The famous tiffin carriers of Mumbai are now delivering e-commerce products on motorcycles

ONE E-COMMERCE giant is now tapping into one of Mumbai’s most fabled and efficient distribution networks— the dabbawalas. For over a century, Mumbai’s dabbawalas, one of the city’s most endearing symbols, have delivered lunchboxes using bicycles and local trains from far-flung homes to distant offices, as the folklore goes, always on time. Their efficiency has been the subject of research at top international business schools.

Since April last year, the e-commerce firm Flipkart tied up with them for the last-mile delivery of their products in Mumbai. The e-commerce firm was keen, according to the Mumbai Dabbawala Association, to tap into the deliverymen’s efficiency. In the initial days of the tie-up, after a quick training, a few dabbawalas made the deliveries post 6 pm on their bicycles. But now deliveries are being made on motorbikes. “A few months ago, we purchased motorbikes for our deliverymen so more deliveries can be made. Currently, each dabbawala makes at least around 15 deliveries every day (from 6-10 pm, once they are through with delivering lunchboxes from homes to offices and back),” says Subhash Talekar, the general secretary of the Mumbai Dabbawala Association. There are around 40 dabbawalas who make these deliveries.

Buoyed by the success of this tie-up, the deliverymen are currently considering another proposal by an online firm to deliver fresh packets of milk and vegetables. Talekar aims to purchase another 20 bikes by the end of this year and would like more deliverymen to start delivering Flipkart products. Referring to the addresses on the packages which are written in English, Talekar says, “The only trouble is most dabbawalas can’t read in English. Hence, only a few are delivering products currently. But as younger people join our workforce, dabbawalas more comfortable with the English language can do more deliveries.”