Inflation bites the humble lunch box

Rain or shine is no deterrent for the dabbawalas of Mumbai, who deliver home-cooked food to office-goers . But inflation has taken its toll, and the ‘dabba’ is now set to cost ₹100 more a month. Currently monthly charges range from ₹600 to ₹1,000, depending on the distance and the time taken.

The hike in charges will take effect this month, said the Mumbai Dabbawala Association. “We cannot help but increase the rates as inflation is rising each day. The prices of petrol, diesel, milk, vegetables and now even railway fares have risen. If we continue our services under the current rates, we may soon be out of business,” said Raghunath Medge, President of the Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association.

The co-operative employs about 5,000 dabbawalas, who are mostly illiterate and belong to the Varkari sect of Maharashtra. Regardless of their role, each one is paid about Rs 8,000 per month.

“We have not been informed about the hike yet. We have to live with it. I cannot let my son eat outside food as his health could get affected,” said Aruna Darji, a resident of western suburb Vile Parle. She uses the service to deliver food to her son, who works at a broking firm in Churchgate, South Mumbai. The Darjis pay ₹700 a month for the service.

Almost synonymous with the city, Mumbai’s dabbawalas work to clockwork precision, travelling by cycle and then by train to ensure that food from your home reaches your office, and on time.

Six Sigma certification

They deliver over 100,000 lunchboxes across the city and are said to have a six sigma rating of 99.9999; that is, less than one mistake in every six million deliveries.

The 125-year-old supply chain was lauded by Britain’s Prince Charles on his visit to India. Most remarkably, the trade involves no advanced technology.

(This article was published on July 2, 2014)
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