Mumbai: Mumbai’s ‘dabbawalas’ and staff of foreign consulates and high commissions have been allowed to travel in local trains. The local trains are currently being run only for essential services staff, officials said Wednesday.
‘Dabbawalas’ are the famous lunch-box carriers in this city and the lifeline for many. They said last month that there was never a six-month break in the ‘130-year-old history of the tiffin services’. They demanded access to local trains to resume their services in full capacity. During the COVID-19 restrictions only ‘dabbawalas’ who could reach the south Mumbai area on their cycles were able to deliver food to office-goers.
The ‘dabbawalas’ expressed happiness on being allowed to board local trains with effect from Tuesday.
Sumit Thakur, chief public relations officer of the Western Railway, said they have allowed the ‘dabbawalas’ to travel in local trains. This decision was based on the unlock guidelines issued by the Maharashtra government September 30. Over 5,000 ‘dabbawalas’ run the tiffin delivery business in the metropolis.
“Staff of foreign consulates and high commissions have also been permitted to travel in local trains. This is as per the directives received from the Ministry of Railways,” Thakur said.
Before the outbreak of COVID-19, the ‘dabbawalas’ used to deliver over two lakh tiffins to office-goers on normal working days. They used suburban trains to ensure lunch boxes are delivered at the destination on time.
Shivaji Sutar, CPRO of Central Railway, said QR-coded ID cards have been issued by the Maharashtra government for ‘dabbawalas’. It will be mandatory for them to travel in local trains. However, ‘dabbawalas’ have requested that they be allowed to travel on their identity cards.
“If the Maharashtra government agrees to their demand, we will permit them to travel on their ID cards,” Sutar said.
Subhash Talekar, spokesperson of the ‘Mumbai Dabbawala Association’, expressed happiness over the development. “Finally, after more than six months, we can resume our service. Now we will now contact our customers and request them to resume the tiffin service,” he said.
Talekar was however, skeptic about resumption of services in full capacity amid the COVID-19 pandemic. “Before the pandemic, every ‘dabbawala’ had on an average 20 to 22 customers. Now I doubt all customers will resume the service immediately. Many people are still working from home,” he informed.
Talekar said the ‘dabbawalas’ will start tiffin delivery even with four to five customers initially. They know it will take some time for things to normalise.
“We are going to follow the COVID-19 safety protocols like wearing masks and gloves, using sanitisers and maintaining social distance. We will also ensure our customers follow it,” informed Talekar.
Most of the ‘dabbawalas’ hail from Maval area of Pune in western Maharashtra. Following lockdown in March this year, many of them returned to their native places in Junnar, Ambegaon, Rajgurunagar, Maval, Haveli and Mulashi. Most of this talukas are in Pune district.