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This is to certify that the project work titled “CASE STUDY ON

DABBAWALAS” submitted by Ms. Siddarthi. N (Reg.no – FPB0709/196),
a student of our B-school, is a work of dissertation carried out by her during
the period of 16th April 2008 to 31st May 2008. This project report is
submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirement for summer placement
project, during the post graduate program in management, a prestigious
awarded by our B-school.

Mr. Manish Jain

Indian Business Academy


This is to certify that the project work titled “CASE STUDY ON

DABBAWALAS” submitted by Ms. Siddarthi. N (Reg.no – FPB0709/196),
a student of our B-school, is a work of dissertation carried out by her during
the period of 16th April 2008 to 31st May 2008. This project report is
submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirement for summer placement
project, during the post graduate program in management, a prestigious
awarded by our B-school.

Dr. Subhash Sharma

Indian Business Academy


This is to certify that the project work titled “CASE STUDY ON

DABBAWALAS” submitted by Ms. Siddarthi. N (Reg.no – FPB0709/196),
a student of our B-school, is a work of dissertation carried out by her during
the period of 16th April 2008 to 31st May 2008. This project report is
submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirement for summer placement
project, during the post graduate program in management, a prestigious
awarded by our B-school.
This work has been done under my close supervision and to my
entire satisfaction. The thesis submitted embodies her genuine work. During
the tenure of project, I found her responsible, sincere and hardworking. I
wish her all the best for the future

Prof. Laxmeshwar
Internal project guide
Indian Business Academy


An undertaking of this type is a result of contribution received from a

number of people. Never can this report be claimed as my individual effort.
No amount of words written will be sufficient and adequate to acknowledge
all the people who have provided me with the inspiration, guidance and help
during the preparation of the project

I am extremely grateful to Dr. Pawan. G. Agarwal, CEO, Nutan Mumbai

Tiffin box Suppliers Charity Trust, Mumbai, for granting me the permission
to pursue my corporate internship and providing useful information to carry
out this course of my project

I would also like to thank Mr.Manish Jain, CEO and Dr. Shubash Sharma,
Dean, Indian Business Academy for valuable inputs and also Indian
Business Academy for giving me a platform to gain practical exposure apart
from the regular curriculum.

Indian Business Academy


I declare that this dissertation/project titled “CASE STUDY ON

DABBAWALAS” an original and bonafide work carried out in partial
fulfillment of the requirement of the PGPM course

I also declare that no part of this dissertation / study has been published or
submitted as a project representation for any degree or diploma of any
institute/ university.

Indian Business Academy


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY………………………………… 7
INTRODUCTION…………………………………………... 9


PROCESS…………………………………………………… 14

CODING…………………………………………………….. 21

PRICING……………………………………………………. 25

HR ASPECTS…………………………………….................. 27

SAFETY AND WELFARE………………………………… 30


LIFELINE OF SYSTEM…………………………………… 33

SIX SIGMA………………………………………………….. 35



SBU OF DABBAWALA……………………………………… 47



The service which has surprised one and all by its efficient work and management skill,
many things come into the mind when one thinks about dabbawalas their supply chain
management their distribution network structure, the team work of the system, the unique
coding system followed by to identify and deliver the Tiffin boxes and finally the mutual
trust and goodwill that they have created for themselves in the minds of the people of
Mumbai with their unique service its one of the oldest service system in Mumbai which
has survived the hardship of time.

The association of the dabbawalas in Mumbai is over a hundred years old. It began as a
Tiffin carrier service for particular community who worked in downtown Mumbai.
Today, this organization caters to over 2, 00,000 customers everyday, using 60 - 80
kilometers of the cities transport service with the help of over 5000 individual
dabbawalas aiming to serve the customer with full dedication and hard work. This system
basically involves service of delivering Tiffin’s from the customer’s residence in the
morning transporting it by train to the destination station and then dispatching it to the
respective offices. The system involved follows a strict pattern of operation they are time
specific and are standard everyday. The entire system is dependent upon the coding,
which is an ingenious creation which is easy to decipher by the semi illiterate dabbawalas

The system is recognized worldwide for their accurate operation and it has received six
sigma certification from Forbes and ISO 9001: 2000 certification for its error free
operation. The dabbawalas are famous case study in all the reputed B- school for their
efficient management skill and they have the pleasure of respect from great personalities
like Prince Charles, Princess Diana and Richard Branson who visited them on their trip to
India. They are appreciated for their hard work and efficient management skill they

Dabbawalas are following efficient SBU ( strategic business management ) concept
before it was even introduced , they have monopoly in their type of business with very
tough competition by the fast food and canteens which can be explained by applying
poters five forces.

A SWOT analysis is necessary to study the various aspects of the business and gain more
knowledge about its present and future. Being the traditional Indian management system,
it is bound by simplicity and efficiency. It is technology free and does not involve any
paper work, modern communication techniques.

It is an esteemed organization and is an aspiration to companies and other organization

across the globe. In absence of HR policies and guidance Dabbawalas are highly
motivated and there is zero attrition rates. They give us enormous knowledge about many
management concepts. India take proud of such an organization and give it due
recognition and support.



Every city has beautiful building and views but no other city ,in the world has
‘DABBAWALAS’. This is a story of a conventional Indian system of management that is
today a favorite case study among management institution for a simple reason that is
doesn’t use any technology and yet outperforms most organizations in operational
efficiency. To the extent that it received a six sigma rating from forbes international and
has received ISO 9001:2001 certificate. They are famous for their supply chain
management their distribution network structure, their team work. Dabbawalas work
efficiently in absence of any human resource policies and continuous supervision.

A look at this unique lunch delivery system of dabbawalas reinforces the fact that work is
both an economic and a social necessity while the economic necessity gets answered by
the fact that because the labor is cheap, tiffin boxes are delivered at lower rates than the
cost of the outside restaurant meals. The social necessity is fulfilled by the delivery of the
tiffin boxes to the customers and satisfying them.

DABBAWALAS – Dabbawalas are believed to be the descendants of the soldiers of

the great Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the founder of the Maratha Empire. They belong to
places like Rajgurunagar, Akola, Ambeggaon, Junnar and Mashi. The dabbawalas
ancestors used to climb up the fort hills in a single breath that’s probably the kind of
energy the dabbawalas have inherited which helps them to maintain an undisturbed
monopoly in this profession.


Mumbai – the city of dreams and ambitions has been on the fast track since the British
had developed the basic infrastructure of roads, railway and buildings. When the British
ruled India, the prime business centers were fort and billard pier areas. These were the
places that have housed banks government departments, insurance houses, shipping
companies and other industrial head office, soon residential colonies moved further away
from the fort area and hence a lot of office goers started finding it difficult to go home for
their lunch from work carrying lunch boxes was also not a preferred routine .

In 1890 , a parsi banker working in ballard pier employed a young man, from Pune
district, to bring his lunch everyday. More and more people joined the group through
referrals and soon it was taken as a serious business. As the business grew the tiffin-
carrying entrepreneur had to hire more helping hands from his village. This led to the
unleashing of an army that even today in the 21st century serves millions of mumbites
with same spirit and competence.

Today, 5000 dabbawalas across Mumbai coordinate with each other for picking up and
delivering the tiffins for over 2,00,000 Mumbaites everyday in 3 hour period, through 60
kms of public transport and in very rare case a tiffin may miss being on its owners lunch
table at the lunch hour.

The organization is really a marvel because it achieves a high level of efficiency and
performance without any documentation, without computers and without an highly
educated workforce. Yet, they are the ultimate practitioner of logistics management. They
have been practicing hub and spoke system, just in time tactics, no inventory policy and
supply chain management principles even before these terms were even coined.

The organization work on a ‘work is worship’ philosophy, which is the traditional Indian
practice because of which they are known as fuel suppliers and if the local train is the
lifeline of the city then the dabbawalas are the food line.

The dabbawalas follow a flat organization structure .In 1890, when the dabbawalas
actually began their services, there was no umbrella organization the first attempt to
unionize was made by Mahadev Bacche in 1930. The carriers started collecting one anna
each per month then as fund and these funds were used to build an inn in 1940. A
charitable trust was registered in 1956 under the name of “ NUTAN MUMBAI TIFFIN
BOX SUPPLIERS TRUST ” . Today every dabbawala contribute certain amount per
month towards the trust. The commercial arm of this trust was registered later in 1968 as

The NMTBST is the apex body representing the dabbawalas. It represents a trim
hierarchy with three tiers. The governing council the mukadams or team leader, and the
dabbawallas themselves.







Members Of Organization


The governing council is a 13 member body for which election are held every five years.
The committee works on the guidelines of the cooperatives, the vice president, the
general secretary, the treasurer and nine director constitute the body. President and vice
president are responsible for conducting monthly meetings checking the bank accounts
and problems of members. The general secretary looks into the daily matters of the trust
and association like drafting letters, making vouchers, collecting funds as a fee for the
trust and other work. Then is the treasurer, who looks into the accounts of the trust. The
directors help the president in decision making and also helps in smooth functioning of
the association.


A mukaddam is the team leader for a group of 25-30 members. Although his key
responsibility is sorting Tiffin boxes, he plays a crucial role in settling disputes
maintaining records of payments of the members of his group and getting new clients.
Another important function of the mukaddam is to ensure consumer satisfaction. A
mukaddam is generally chosen as the leader on the basis of his experience and skill.


Each dabbawalas is a dabbawala is a businessman himself. Therefore, each one has to

find out his own way to run a sustainable business. The dabbawalas operate in groups of
roughly 20-25 members, each carrying around 30-35 Tiffin boxes. There are also some
dabbawalas who operate individually. A total of 120 groups are registered and all groups
are independent of each other.

The 5000 dabbawalas are divided into 3 sets of activities. Between 9-9:30 am, one crew
of dabbawalas collects freshly packed Tiffin from individual homes and delivers it to the
nearest railway station, when they are sorted at a place designated as sorting places on the
station itself. This sorting is done as per the destination stations, then, the train for
churchgate or CST departs between 10:30 – 11:00 am and stops at all stations with
intermediate stop – over for the dabbawalas like Thane, Kurla, Andheri and Dadar. At
these junction, the second set of dabbawalas exchange and sort the Tiffins in a speedy
manner, involving ‘zero documentation’. Then there is a third set of dabbawalas waiting
at the respective destination- station who sort out and assemble the respective set of
tiffins and load them into handcraft, trays, bicycles and then, each carrier sets out for the
final delivery. Not to mention, after all these efficiently carried out activities, a tiffin box
rarely misses the destined stomach at lunchtime.


The job of dabbawalas begins at around 8:00 – 8:30 am with collectin the tiffins from
various households. Usually, people generally leave their tiffins outside the door for the
dabbawalas to pick up. In case they are late, the dabbawalas have to urge them to hurry
up at times, very rarely though; the dabbawalas have to leave the client’s tiffin if it gets
really late.


DW1 al area 1 Collecting of tiffins
According to
DW2 R2 residential area

DW3 R3

Destinati station
Sorting by on station
codes for 1
residential area
at the DS2 Sorting by codes
destination according to a
station destination station

Residential OFFICE 1
area 1 DW 1

Residential DW2
area 2
Residential area OFFICE 3


Office 1 DW1 AL AREA 1 Getting back the
tiffin to the station

station 1
BY CODE ACCORDING Regrouping the
Destination tiffins as per the
station 2 destination

station 3

Residential DW1
area 1

Residential DW2
area 2

Residential area DW3


The dabbawala picks up the tiffin from his lot of houses and meets the other group
members at the designated spot at the station. They should make sure that they reach the

platform for the sorting process at least 30 minutes prior in order to ensure a smooth flow
of their networking throughout the daily routine.

Now starts the critical phase of the system that is sorting of all the tiffins as per the
destination station and to arrange them in the wooden crates in a short period of 20-25
minutes. The aim of this process is to segregate the tiffins in order to differentiate them as
per the destination and therefore it is important to make easier and less time consuming
for the respective dabbawala. This is essentially the process that makes the entire system
error-free. Since each tiffins changes many hand, each of the lids of the tiffin is marked
With a colored code indicating the originating station, destination and the building with
the floor number the coding system is the secret behind the efficient working of the
system and that is exactly the reason why the network is “information rich”.

Dabbawalas are semi-literate they understand the coding on the tiffins and can effectively
deliver them on time. This is a very unique feature also because it requires no
documentation or record keeping. There is no communication between two different
groups of dabbawalas but there is just simple coordination among them because the
whole ‘blue print’ is pre-decided by the dabbawalas themselves. Thus, the dabbawalas
have to ensure over here about proper coordination among them, understand the coding
system on the tiffins and delegate the jobs of dispatching the tiffins to the respective

The mukadam plays a key role over here to ensure the smooth working and proper
coordination. The responsibility of the mukadam is to the extent that he has to know all
the tiffins that his group carrier. Therefore, he must be able to recognize these tiffins that
his group carries. Therefore, he must be able to recognize these tiffins even is the codes
on them are barely visible. Also, if any member of the group abstains from his duty for a
particular day for some reason, then it is the responsibility of the mukadam to ensure that
all the dabbas that the absentee was responsible for are duly picked up and delivered back
on time. Hence, we see that the mukadam plays a key role in this stage of sorting and
allocating jobs.

The dabbawalas load the wooden crates filled with tiffins onto the luggage or goods
compartment in the train. Generally, they choose to occupy the last compartment of the
train. This not only makes it more convenient for them as they avoid the rush at the
platform but is also very easy to locate as the last compartment is conveniently situated
once the train arrives at the platform. Mostly, other commuters avoid boarding onto these
compartments as they are already filled with the crates and there is not enough room.
There are also others joining into the group from these stations as they have common
destination points.

The allocation of manpower at each station depends on the number of tiffins that are to be
delivered in that particular area. If there are 150 tiffins that are to be delivered in Grant
Road area, then 4 people would be assigned to that station. This is done keeping in mind
that one person can carry not more than 35 dabbas. They will also be assigned specific
codes which are written on top of the tiffin.

These four dabbawala can be from any groups and irrespective of any station. Their job is
now to deliver these 150 tiffins irrespective of which group they belong to. If the number
of tiffins that are to be delivered in an area like, Nariman point, is large then the number
of people allocated goes up. Within that area, if one location, lets say, Mittal towers, has
a huge number of the location number remains the same and the tiffins are differentiated
on the basis of color.

A unique feature of the system is that in bigger buildings with large office densities, like
nariman point, or the stock exchange itself, an elevator is specially reserved for the
dabbawalas during the lunchtime. Usually these elevators have queues throughout the day
as the offices are extremely busy and hence, in order to provide convenience and quick
delivery without queues, the dabbawalas have a special elevator reserved for themselves
onto which others cannot board. In some cases, they also leave the tiffins in the canteen
that is common to the whole building and hence the respective owners can simply pich up
theirs. This is also a feature seen in school where the dabbawalas deliver.

So, in this process, the dabbawalas save a lot of time by cutting short the delivery
process.Thereafter, the dabbawalas take a break and have their own lunch which is
usually their tiffins kept along with the others in the crate with special markings.
Different groups have their lunch at different locations. It is generally on the footpath or
some benches on the roadside. The break is usually of 45-60 minutes in duration. Till
then, the customers must finish having their lunch and keep the dabbas outside for the
dabbawala to collect.

Here on begins the collection process where the dabbawalas have to pick up the tiffins
from the offices where they had delivered almost an hour ago. The dabbawalas are the
same in this case. The one who delivers it to th office wil be the one who collects it. Most
of the time, the dabbawalas will collect all dabbas from all the offices situated on the
same floor and will leave them in corridor.

This is actually the only risky point in the entire network system. This is because there is
a risk of theft when the dabbawala leaves the tiffin outside at the corridor. The only
solution to this is, to have another dabbawala securing the dabbas while the other one
goes and collects the remaining. This is related to a personal experience and hence a
mention of this incident is critical in analyzing the mechanism of the system. By
complaints and suggestion from customers, the dabbawalas can actually bring some
improvement in the system such as the one mentioned. A dabbawala who can secure the
procured tiffins can greatly help in reducing thefts.

After the collection is over, the dabbawalas meet the remaining group members at a
designated spot and the first assortment on the return journey takes place. The group
members meet with their respective crates and the segregation as per the destination
suburb takes place. The group departs together after this stage, which usually takes just
15 minutes. Therefore, they depart for the station and all groups meet for a common
sorting process. The crates are arranged in a line and each dabbawala picks up the tiffin
that belongs to his group at the destination center.

One important thing to note is that a particular dabawala need not operate in same group
throughout the day. He will, in most cases operate with 2 different groups. One at the
originating station and one at the destination. The coordination is equally important in
either groups and there is total unity among them.

After the sorting in various crates, they start departing in their respective trains which
again is pre decided and is a part of their daily routine. In this case, the group being
discussed as an example leaves by the 2:48 pm local to Andheri. This part of the journey
is more relaxed because the dabbawala are not under immense pressure of timely delivery
as in the morning.

In the return journey, where the group finally meets up after the day’s routine of
dispatching and collecting from various destination offices the group members finally
arrive at the station with the same dabbas that they had started off with in the morning.

.Usually, since it is more of a pleasant journey compared to the earlier part of the day, the
dabbawalas lighten up the moment with merry making, joking around and singing. This
eases their stress and helps in a developing stronger bond among the group. Of course,
other passenger also join them in the merry making at times and hence, these dabbawalas
have created an impression upon other passenger of being hard working, dedicated and
joyous people. This is the stage where the final sorting and dispatch for final destination
takes place. This is the easiest process because with the limited quantity of tiffins that
gets off the train with them, it is simpler to identify which tiffin belongs to whom.

The dabbawalas take out their respective tiffins from the crates and either carry 10-15 of
them physically on themselves or load them onto the crates till they reach their cycle.
Then, each of them departs on their way with the same dabbas that he took in the
morning and delivers them to the respective houses.
This delivery process takes roughly 30-45 minutes depending on the distance that the
dabbawala will have to cover.

Thus, the entire network system ends with the delivery of the tiffin back to
the customer’s origin point at the precise time everyday. The customer is satisfied with
timely delivery of home food and the dabba back to the origin

The number of tifins have increased for the dabbawalas as the days passed on. As every
tiffin box had to be carried to and fro, mapping each box its carrier was crucial or else, it
would lead to chaos. For this purpose ,the dabbawalas started trying strings to their boxes
while some used wires or colored threads. But soon, these methods were found
inadequate a the number of tiffins kept growing exceptionally. Therefore there was a
need for a new form of inexpensive coding which would be understandable by the
illiterate dabbawalas. Hence , in the 1970`s a senior member from Ragunath medge`s
( President of dabbawalas association) family decided to implement a new system where
all box codes and markings were uniform the dabbawalas. This system would cater to any
number of tiffins, no matter the growth in new additions. This system was an ingenious
creation. It served as a common code for all dabbawalas which was easy to decipher. The
dabbawalas, being illiterate should be able to understand it and explain it with ease to
new comers and outsiders and that was the most important thing to remember while
creating the codes

This coding system eventually stood the test of time and proved extensible. With coding
in place, there was enough scope to factor in new development like adding new
dabbawalas or new office blocks or new sources and destination. The new system
depends on common protocols, a typical Indian approach to versatile distribution. Each
tiffin containing the food has a number of codes in alphabets and numbers on its top
which identify the following:-

1. The code allocated to each Dabbawala in a group that picks up the tiffin from a
particular area or suburb

2. The code of the origin station, which is usually one of the suburb on western,
central or harbor lines.
3. The code for destination, which is again churchgate, CST or any other
commercial lines
4. The code for the dabbawala in the destination area who hands the tiffin there
5. The code for the location or office buildings in the destination area.
6. The floor or the room number in that building

Besides these, there is also a difference in the color of paints or chalk that they use to
write the codes on the top of the dabba. Different groups will have different color code
written on the top pf the dabba so that the tiffin belonging to a group remains distinct.
This is necessary because there is usually more than just one group present at each
station. The destination codes will be the same for all groups at the same station. This
makes it difficult to distinguish their tiffins so the simplest way of bringing the
distinctions that is required is by coding with different colors. This is a simple and easy
way of differentiating the codes, which is also easy to understand for the illiterate
dabbawala. The maximum number of color used in this system is seven. Incidentally each
group of dabbawalas must also carry colored pencil or chalks so that they have been
erased or are difficult to interpret.

Incidentally, each group of dabbawala must also carry colored pencils or chalk so that
they can write the codes if they have been erased or are difficult to interpret. Obviously ,
each and every dabbawala must know the coding system very well and must also know
all the dabbas in his group with respect to the origin and destination.

To explain the code we can take an example :

VP – The first thing on the tiffin, is the code for the originating station from where the
dabbawalas picks up the tiffin in the morning. In this case VP denotes Vile Parle. The
area under this station will include Juhu and also J.V.P.D scheme since this is the only
station ,which is nearest. Even if the dabbawala goes it the most interior parts like juhu ,
it will not be mentioned in the coding simply because the dabbawalas are just concerned
about the respective railway station.

E – This is the code for the dabbawala who is picking up the tiffin from its origin or
home. In this case, the dabbawala with the code of ‘E ` , will be a part of the group
distinguished by the color code ‘RED’. In many instances, the code will be the initial of
the name of the dabbawala. This is one of the elements that can be changed during the
course of time if the dabbawala for that particular customer changes.

3 – This is the code for the destination area. This may not necessarily be restricted to a
station only. For, instance, churchgate is allotted number codes from 1-10. Number 11 is

allotted to Marine lines ,12 to Charni road and so on. In this example , the number ‘3’ is
allotted to the area between Flora Fountain and cross Maidan area . Other prime location
would include Nariman point, stock exchange, ballard pier, RBI etc.

9 – VS – 12
9 – This is the code number for the dabbawala who delivers the tiffin to the destination
office from Churchgate station. This is the dabbawala who is responsible for delivering to
the respective office and picking it up after the lunch hours. He is a part of another group
from the one he worked with at the originating station. Thus, in most cases , each
dabbawala will be a part of more than one group for sure one at the origin and one at the

VS – This code denotes the exact location or more likely, the building’s initial in the
area that falls under churchgate station. In this case, it is the VSNL building VS being the
initial for the building is unique and therefore , creates no confusion whatsoever for the
dabbawalas. Office buildings around southern Mumbai are very popular and hence , easy
to comprehend when given in codes. Other examples would be M for mittal towers, R for
RBI , and MC for Makers Chambers and so on.

12 – Finally , the last code among the three codes that form the right side of the top of
the dabba is the floor on the building ( VSNL) or the room number in case of building
with large number of rooms on each floor. Such an example would be stock exchange ,
RBI , and BMC etc.


As mentioned earlier, the rationale behind the development of a group model in the
business is to improve the competitiveness of the system. If there are 5 groups in Andheri
then each group will fight in order to require new customers because each group is
responsible for generating its own income.

Generally, the service charges vary between Rs.150 to Rs.300 per month depending on

1. LOCATION – In some populated areas such as RBI colonies or apartment

complexes such as the Lokhandwala complex in Andheri, the charges are lower
because there are a lot of clients in these areas. At one point of time, there used to
be 2 handcrafts full of tiffins from RBI colony situated at Santacruz (w). this is
very economical for the dabbawalas and hence the charges are lower so that more
and more customers can opt for the service. In another case, where the area is less
populated or the demand for this service is minimum, example, Juhu area, the
charges will be comparatively higher since the demand is poor and it is
uneconomical for the dabbawala to travel all the way to juhu for just one or two
dabbas which give him the same amount of money. Thus, they charge a higher or
lower price depending upon the area.

2. TIME – Sometimes , the client may not be able to prepare the dabba at the time
that is convinent for the dabbawala to pick up. In such a case, the dabbawala is
forced to make an exception and hence his charges are more because he has to put
in extra effort to make it all that time suitable to the client. Whereas, if the client
can prepare the tiffin at the time convinent for the dabbawala to pick up, his
charges will be lower as it is now convinent for him and he has to put in equal
effort without making an exception.

Money is collected in the first week of every month and it is remitted to the ‘Mukadam’
on the first Sunday. The money thus collected, is divided among all the members of the
group equally.

For example , if three are four groups at Santacruz that is Red , Green , Yellow and Blue.
Now , if there are 15 members in red group and the total number of customer serviced by
the group is 375 and the amount thus collected is Rs. 75,000. Then this total amount
would be divided equally among all members.

There are two aspects to this transaction that is if one dabbawala service 40 customers
and one another one service just 20 customer. Here both the parties get equal share
because of two factors – time and location.

Also, one has to consider that the dabbawala collecting 40 tiffins may have collected all
of them from one area itself ( like RBI colony) in 30 minutes. Whereas, the other
dabbawala collecting 20 tiffins may have had to travel long distance covering a large area
in order to collect his 20 tiffins in over an hour’s time. Thus, it would be unfair to hi if the
first dabbawala is paid a higher amount.

Out of the total proceeds earned by each dabbawala, Rs.60 per crate and Rs.120 per man
per month have to be paid to the railways to obtain the pass.

Nevertheless, each dabbawala earns, on an average Rs.4000-Rs 5000. He makes a

contribution of Rs.10 per month to the association for the utilization of bringing
upliftment to their community. Loans are given by the association and also, contributions
are made at religious places during festival such as Mahashivratri at Bhimashankar.

Considering all these factors, one can say that the monthly charges that the dabbawalas
take, is not at all expensive. The service delivered with the efficiency and accuracy is all
worth it.

One of the most important factors behind the success of the dabbawalas is efficient
human resource management. Most of the dabbawalas come from the same region and
community in Maharashtra they are a tight knit group and rarely have dispute among
themselves, which results in good working relationship. Dabbawalas operate without any
HR policies but still each dabbawala is self motivated to perform is job. There is no
absenteeism and every dabbawala follows the rules and policies of the association
perfectly. There is very low attrition rate and the recruitment and training of dabbawala is
also carried out by themselves.


Recruitment is essentially done through word of mouth and from neighboring town
Over the years, the dabbawalas has become a growing community of busy delivery-men
who carry out their work with honesty and commitment. This is because each person in
the value chain is selected very carefully and with due recommendation only. The
implication of the word 'recommendation' is different from the common parlance – the
referrer assumes responsibility for the incumbent's conduct throughout the working life


1. The village address and other details are taken and then the membership to the
association to he association and bank is granted

2. Two guarantors from the group are required. Usually, they are the senior members
of the group.

3. The new member is paid a fixed amount of Rs.2000 for the first 6 – 7 months till
he is completely trained for handling his own business.

4. Lastly, when joining the group, the new comer has to contribute to the capital of
the association in 1:7 ratios of the group’s average monthly earnings. That means
that the new entrant must contribute 5000 as capital if his group’s average
monthly earnings are Rs.35000.

5. There is a belief in religious neutrality and therefore, people of all casts are
welcome to join. Nevertheless, most of the dabbawalas still remain
Maharashtrians and a small proportion of rajastanis.


Every dabbawala when recruited undergoes minimum six month training about
traveling in train delivering the tiffins language etc. this is the crucial part where a
new dabbawala will learn every aspects of the process. As they are recommended by
an existing dabbawala the training process becomes easy. Here dabbawala is thought
to follow the code of conduct and discipline that he has to maintain during his
working hours. After the training period the dabbawala becomes the owner of his
business and will be given chance to recommend new member.

During the training period he learns to travel in local trains , routes to different
destination in the city , he is taught to get new customers.


The dabbawalas operate in groups of 25-30. Each group pool in the collected money
and deduct the expenses that was incurred during the month like the train pass, bicycle

maintenance and other charges and average of the amount is divided equally among the
group. Each dabbawala earns minimum Rs.5000 – Rs.6000 per month
The salary of the dabbawala depends on the number of customer the group serves.

Attrition rate

The association has 0% attrition rate a every dabbawala is very satisfied with the job and
somewhere they feel they are serving the society. The dabbawalas enjoy their work and
have highe level of satisfaction and cooperation with their other colleagues and the
feeling of ownership they share never gives them a reason to quite there job.

There is no protection for the dabbawalas from the rain and scorching sun. Even the
dabbas are not under any cover or protection except for what is actually given by the
customer. Raincoats do not provide adequate protection when they have to cycle around.
Whereas, umbrellas are more of a haste o carry around during their hectic activities.
Thus, they are vulnerable to any illness during the season. As for the dabbas, its not much
of a worry because the rainwater isn’t going to get into the food anyway.

There is also a minute risk of the bicycles getting stolen or tiffins getting stolen or lost
but its extremely rare. Since three is no insurance for anything, what is lost is a loss
incurred by the responsible dabawala. In case the tiffin gets stolen or lost, the respective
customers of the dabbawalas are to deduct the amount from the dabbawalas salary. In
other cases, where the incident of the loss is due to the fault of another member that leads
to a dispute, that matter is then settled during the monthly meetings held at dadar where
the committee decides who will bear the compensation and who is to be blamed. Of
course, the loss of a tiffin is a one in 8 million cases that leads to the achievement of six
sigma distinction. As for the bicycles, the dabbawalas usually have an understanding with
the watchmen or security people who take care of these cycles as the dabbawalas are
away delivering. In case they do get stolen, nobody is blamed and the dabbawala has to
bear the loss completely.

During morning times, the carriage would take around 40-50 tiffins. Now, each tiffins is
filled with food and the whole carriage weighs on an average 70-80 kgs. This is
extremely heavy for a head load. But the dabbaala manage this as their daily routine. So
much weight in the scorching heat of the day may lead to fatigue and therefore is unsafe
for them but due to the physical fitness levels, it is rare for a dabbawala to fall ill due to
fatigue. But there is no welfare policy in this regards.
The only welfare activity carried out by the union is the social gathering that the
association carries out every year at their village festival.


An important feature of the dabbawalas service is customer satisfaction also the ultimate
objective of any logistic operation
Keeping in line with this objective, all problem are usually resolved by the association’s

1. Like of theft or loss of a Tiffin-box, if any carrier is found guilty then the client is
allowed to deduct the costs from the dabbawalas charges for the subsequent
month. If a client receives improper services by any dabbawala, for which a
complaint has been made to the association that particular dabbawala will be
directed to end his services with that client and another dabbawala will be allotted
to the client. In this manner, no future disputes between that client and the
dabbawala will arise and with the allocation of another dabbawala is his place, the
client will also receive continuous and efficient service. Thus leading to greater
customer satisfaction.
2. The association also has the responsibility of handling all the internal disputes.
Apart from discouraging undercutting between two dabbawalas, the association
has to handle all kinds of disputes arising between two dabbawalas. For this
reason, the association charges Rs.100-200/- before looking into the complaint.
This is done to ensure that the official’s time is not wasted on any petty disputes.
A meeting is conducted every 1 days of every month at the dadar office where all
the committee members assemble and all complaints and disputes are heard and
resolved. The dabbawalas are not supposed to take any major decision and are not
supposed to claim any amount arising out of a disputes until the actual dispute
matter is brought forward in front of everyone during the monthly meet.
3. Each Tiffin carrier has to pay Rs.15 to the union every month. This money
accumulates and helps as aid in maintaining and funding their ‘Dharamshalas’ at

various locations in Maharashtra. This is a social of the association since the
dabbawalas get proper accommodation whenever they go to these places.
4. In the association code of ethics, no dabbawala is allowed to undercut another. As
far as possible, coordination among groups is encouraged so that undercutting
doesn’t lead to disputes.

5. The whole dabbawalas union takes a one week break every year in the month of
March when all go to Ambegaon for their annual village festival. This is a
welcome break from the hectic day to day routine that the dabbawala follow. All
customer are informed much in advance about this period when the dabbawalas
will collectively remain absent from duty. This is the individual dabawalas
responsibility to communicate with the clients and in order to authenticate the
reason for the leave, the association also circulates notices for customer along
with each carrier.

6. Wearing the traditional white cap is very important. It is the only integral symbol
of the dabbawala. If a dabbawala is caught not wearing the cap, he wil be fined
Rs.30 when spotted by the official.

7. Each dabbawala is allowed to carry a maximum of 35 Tiffin boxes. If the number

is more than 35, then the excess Tiffins need to be carried by another carrier.

8. In the long historical relationship with Mumbai city, the dabbawalas have one
major unattended demand. The union has constantly requested the railways to
reserve one goods compartment for them during the peak hours but they have not
been adhered to. But, it is an unwritten rule that people are not to load the
particular goods compartment occupied by dabbawalas for their goods. Meaning
between 10:00 and 11:30 am and 15:00 to16:30 hrs, commuters generally are not
supposed to board the goods compartment occupied by the dabbawallas. In fact ,

until the 1970`s, the particular compartment read something like reserved for
Tiffin carrier. But with growing number of commuters and more and more
demand for better service and space, this reservation has been discontinued.

9. Every dabbawala has to handle his own expenses handcraft and bicycle
maintenance, railway pass , luggage pass and all other contribution and fees. They
can also opt for the loan from union at around 5%p.a , which is lower than market
rate of interest. The union also runs a small co-operative bank in order to help the
dabbawalas and the community as a whole. The dabbawalas belong to a large
community and hence, it is a part of the association’s social commitment to help
achieve the upliftment of the community.


•No Alcohol drinking during business hours

•Wearing White Cap during business hours

•Carry Identity Cards


The dabbawalas owe a lot to the Mumbai local train transportation for their superior
efficiency. The local trains of Mumbai city cover approximately 60-70 kilometer and this
distance is covered by hundreds of trains operating with a frequency of three minutes. A
local train rarely late I its feature helps the dabbawalas dispatch the Tiffin boxes on time.
The facility of an efficient suburban railway system does not exist elsewhere in India and
this is the main reason for the dabbawalas not exceeding their operation beyond Mumbai

The entire dabbawalla system works on the military discipline based on a shared
agenda and a common protocol. The dabbawala are spread over the entire city and hence
all the three lines of the local train that is western, harbor and central line are completely
utilized by them. The main stations in these three lines are Dombivilli, Andheri, Dadar ,
Kurla, Grant Road, churchgate and CST. These form the major sorting station for the
dabbawalas. Each station essentially contains 4 to 8 groups depending upon the density of
population at each station and the demand ‘ The day the Mumbai local trains would stop,
our business would also stop”, said Ragunath Megde president of dabawalla association.


In the year 1998 the famous US business Magazine The Forbes gave the dabbawalas
system a SIX SIGMA plus performance rating or a 99.999999 percentage of correctness.
Im simple words, this means one error in six million transactions, a benchmark reserved
for blue chip companies like Motorola. From a six sigma perspective the dabbawalas
must contend with two critical quality parameters, the lunch boxes must be delivered on
time. The response variables therefore are arrival time and correct box delivered which
has been well adhered to by the dabbawalas.

The other factors which has enabled the dabbawalas to achieve the six sigma distinction
are –
1. HIGH CONFORMITY IN THE SYSTEM : The system operates in such a
manner that every individual has personal interest in conforming to the basic
principle and discipline. He understand that when he delivers someone else’s
Tiffin, his own are being distributed by someone else. And that is the reason why
he conforms to the norm. his participation in the system is ensured by peer’s
participation. This interlock in the system ensures a grater responsibility and thus
a better performance.

2. BUFFER IN LEAD-TIME : The system is made with a buffer in the lead-time.

They have around two-and-a-half to three hours time to deliver the boxes. Mostly
it only takes th dabbawalas around 30 to 45 minutes to collect the boxes and
bring them to the station. From here it again takes another 30-45 minutes to
deliver the Tiffin boxes. So, there is actually imbedded a time slack in the
delivery process, so that even if a dabbawala misses the planned train, he will
still be able to deliver the lunch boxes in time. So on most days the dabbawalas
have waiting time when they arrive at their delivery station, which they utilize for

sorting the Tiffin boxes. This is the reason for there timely delivery. This time
margin is necessary to keep up the impressive on time delivery statistic.


The system is designed, to the capabilities of the employees. They have devised a
system so that no one has to remember more than 30-40 places of collection and
delivery. This number is partly picked as a result of two things-
First, because of the time available and second these many are the numbers they
find easy to remember and distinguish.


A SWOT analysis is very important for a thorough and complete analysis of the
Dabbawallas system. Being over a 100 years old organization ,it is bound to have many
strength inherent in the system and it may also have certain weaknesses arising out of
conventional methodology. There will be several opportunities since it is such an open
organization and its performance is also always visible to everyone. Lastly , there will
surely be certain threats to this system. Increasing competition from various other means
and sources that provide similar or substituting services to commuters will also have a
great impact on the organization.


SIMPLICITY IN ORGANIZATION – The organizational structure is very simple. It is

a loose cooperative with the entire organization divided into strategic business units that
is group of 10-20 individual dabbawalas. These group are responsible for their own
sources of money and have to maintain their own accounts if required. Therefore , they
are financially independent. With relatively medium income levels and greater levels of
customer satisfaction, this organization does not at all need a rigid operating structure.

COORDINATION – The groups, although independent as far as money matter are

concerned ,work very smoothly and effectively with each other. Not only is the
coordination within the group is perfect but also the coordination among different groups
is really remarkable. A group responsible for a particular area in Andheri will effectively
coordinate with other groups on the way to churchgate station and will gradually, the
individuals will merge into groups for delivery. The effectiveness of coordination can
best be seen during the sorting process. There is no rivalry whatsoever among different
groups and the functioning is smooth and problem free.

INTEGRATED WORKING – a large number of groups coordinate among themselves
and dabbawalas change their groups for picking up and dispatching at the originand
destination stations. They can practically wok with the same efficiency in any group.
This makes the end result extremely efficient and the customer satisfaction is also high.
The basic reason for this is the integrated working pattern. A highly accurate and efficient
coding system along with the efficient system of local trains leads to a complete
integration of the working of all groups at various station. A single dabbawala is never
completely devoted to one single tifiinbox. Therefore , this integration goes a long way in
asserting the success of this system.

TEAM SPIRIT – All the dabbawalas mostly operates in groups that are actually
functioning as a team does in any sport. They have a daily routing to complete which is
like a mission to accomplish within a stipulated time. External factors such a weather
elements, crowd, disputes with outsiders etc.., are all neglected when it comes to
performing the duty first. Because of the time constrain , every dabbawala knows that he
must work effectively in the tem in order to complete the job successfully. Another
reason for the great team spirit is that most dabbawalas are from same region and
community and therefore it’s like a huge family that is working together o earn a
livelihood. Disputes are often for short period only and they get back to working with
everyone in a very friendly way. Cooperation is the key element here. Apart from the
advantage that one deserve by working in a group , people prefer to work in a group
simply because it is a team which pools all the efforts and gives the most efficient overall
output in terms of productivity and efficiency.

SIMPLE LIVING – The dabbawalas are basically a part of a large community that was
directing descendent of Shivaji Maharaj `s work force and army. Therefore , their origins
date back to the glory days of the region and hence, their nature is essentially simple and
orthodox. Rather , one can say that they seem to be like simple ,cheerful and amble folk.
But this is lighter side of the dabbawalas who is like a military personnel carrying out the
duties with immense hard work and agility. At work, they perform like a ruthless army

with a mission to achieve victory by racing against time. Their daily agenda , if
experimented by the common man in practicality will not only exhaust him but will make
him have more and more respect for the great army of tiffin carriers who have such a
vigorous daily exercise to perform. Whenever they have an opportunity or have time in
hand, like during lunch or while sitting in the train during the journeys, the dabbawalas
show their true nature and simplicity in character by sharing some light moments. They
are cheerful ,joyous and relaxed folk. Difficult characteristics to believe if one were to
simply see the way they work. But by simple traveling with them for a day , one can
make out that they welcome strangers who are willing to know more about them and
want to talk to them. They are also very inquisitive about the happenings of the world.
Be it technology in new gadgets ,sports, politics, and products that have been introduced
in the
market. They are very cooperative and cheerful when interacted they are satisfied with
what they earn out of their hard work

LOW OPERATION COST – The cost involved in carrying out the daily routines are
really low if you compare it to any logistical company. The main expenditure is on their
traveling only which too, is by the cheapest and fastest mode of transport in the city.
Besides trains, they operate on bicycles or on foot which is also very cheap. Bicycles
require negligible expenses because they are easy to maintain. The information system is
neither computerized nor does it involve paper work. It is simply done by marking codes
on the top of the tiffins with color pencils or paint or chalk. The money matters are
handled individually by groups and therefore the incomes and common expenses are
borne by the group itself. It is difficult to find any organization that operates on such a
large scale and yet is so cost efficient.

CONVENTIONAL WORKING METHODS – The working methodology of the

dabbawalas is totally conventional. It consists of non-technology based techniques and
yet. It is very efficient. There is absolutely no computerization involved in maintaining
client accounts, in the systematic networking of tiffin carriage, in maintaining records of

the number of dabbawalas, the number of absentees or even complaints. All this is
handled individually by the respective groups. For the number of tiffins allotted , each
dabbawalas is responsible for collecting the money from his own clients and he has to
handle their complaints too. If there are major disputes , they have to resolve during the
monthly meetings held at dadar that are convened by the association. There is no paper
work involved as well. All the transport logistic, client account , tiffin allocation etc are
handled without any book keeping or by maintaining records. All the functions are
discussed within the group initially and the same is carried out regularly. There is no
change in their working methods at all. All principles and methods have been pre-defined
and have been kept simple enough to avoid any need of automation or complexity.
Considering all these factors, it is laudable that the dabbawalas still manage all deliveries,
client accounts and differences in income and expenditures so efficiently.

CUSTOMER SATIFACTION – The clients of the dabbawalas are an extremely

satisfied lot. They have no disputes with the dabbawalas as matters can be resolved face
to face and in most cases, the dabbawalas policy makes things simpler. If in a particular
case the client’s tiffin gets misplaced or lost, the dabbawalas takes the responsibility
irrespective of the fact that another carrier working in the destination area might have lost
the dabba. It was primarily the responsibility of the dabbawala who is under the
respective client’s contract to ensure the safety of the tiffin. He has taken his own
decision to delegate the job of delivery to another member and hence, he has to bear the
loss for the misplaced tiffin-box. Therefore , this policy being simple as it is , the client is
quite satisfied because there are no disputes and claim issues. In other cases such as
leaves, the dabbawala would usually intimate the group members about his being unable
to attend duties on a particular day and hence, the back-up member would carry the duty
on his behalf. Therefore ,because of the absence of the usual dabbawala the client is not
totally deprived of the services, as there is a back up in most of the cases. Other leaves
include the weeklong holiday that all dabbawalas take for attending their annual village
festival. This information is provided to the client before hand and is intimated one week
in advance so that it is not inconvenient at the last moment.


FUNDS FOR THE ASSOCIATION – The association has very limited funds for the
organization. Every dabbawalla has to deposit Rs.15 every month to the association. With
around 5000 dabbawalas working, that would amount to Rs.67,500 for the association per
month. That translate to over Rs.8 lakhs. With this fund, the association has to maintain
all the pilgrimage places where it has set up dharamshalas. It also has to sponsor certain
welfare benefits to the dabbawalas in terms of medical aid and financial aid to family
members of the dabbawala involved in an accident. The association can accumulate more
funds and allocate them for programs such as children education, upliftment of
communities at village level and other welfare benefits. But this shortage of funds hinders
these possibilities.

HIGH DEPENDABILITY ON LOCAL TRAINS – The entire dabbawala network,

barring a few who function independability on bicycles, its totally dependent on the
functioning of the railways. They work only if the train works. Therefore, during the
bandh or railway strike, the dabbawalas call off their duties. Of course ,the customers do
understand the problem and the case of the dabbawalas taking an off due to non-
functioning of railways is again , a rare case. The local trains of Mumbai do not stop in
case of heavy monsoons or even during roits. The trains are hence, very efficient in their
daily functionality. This enables the dabbawalas to perform their operation regularly
enough. But the underlined fact is that function only when the trains function and
therefore their over dependence on the railway network is an undeniable weakness.

ILLITERACY – The majority of the members of the dabbawala association can only
manage to sign their names. They are unable to read or write in English. This poses as a
major problem in case the individual leaves the association and has to look at an
alternative profession. His inability to read or write will then pose a problem to his own
survival. The association does not take any up any initiative to educate the dabbawalas.
As a part of its welfare and social commitment, education is absent from the agenda. But

the dabbawalas do manage to carry out their operations with their limited ability to read
and write. They are able to comprehend the codes imprinted on the tiffins. If they are
totally illiterate. They are trained to that level but in most cases, the dabbawalas do not
require this kind of training because the association has set this minimum criterion for the
applicant who want to join the association. Unfortunately, in today’s times, it is necessary
to acquire proper knowledge and education to secure one’s future. Not all dabbawalas
work till they are 65 or 70 years old therefore they require the knowledge to support
themselves. Thus, it is definitely a weak point.


ADVERTISING – The dabbawalas have been approached by various companies before

for advertising on the tiffins. The most famous and successful campaign to date has been
the ` kaun banega crorepati ` advertisement. Star plus approached the organization and
offered a amount of Rs.10,000 for pasting its sticker’s o every tiffin box. This is
incidentally the standard rate the association charges from every company that wishes to
advertise. The ` 9 baj gaye kya? ` campaign was a great success as all office goers would
notice this on their tiffin boxes everyday and would hence remember to watch the
program at 9 pm every night. It had a great recall value. Thus, association has several
more opportunities to grab in form of additional revenue that arises from these
advertisement is also minute compared to the exposure that it offers. The contract would
be on a weekly basis or a monthly basis.

OTHER CITIES – The dabbawala network could also work in other cities but in a
smaller scale. Cities like pune already have a small network of dabbawalas who operate
on bicycle only. There is definitely a source of income in such cities as there is a huge
market. Although the absence of local train makes it very difficult for the dabbawalas to
operate is major cities like Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad ,Ahmedabad etc but they can
operate in medium scale. Cities like delhi now have the metro rail as an efficient means

of transport. Thus, these cities are a great opportunity for th dabbawalas to expand their
service network.

CATERING – Considering the increasing competition from restaurants and catering

services for customers. There are a large number of customer who find it difficult to
prepare the lunch early in the morning. Especially in the case of working women who
have to prepare the lunch for the husband and herself and also manage to reach the office
on time. In such cases ,if there could be the convenience of catering as well as delivering
services, it would be an ideal benefit for many customer.


The business of the dabawallas had to withstand some major shocks during the last


A major chuck of the clientele were lost with the closure of textile mills in Mumbai.
These mills constituted a huge labour force and thus , their was a severe blow to the

Many of the city’s banks changed their timings from 10:30 hrs to 11:00 hrs. The RBI
employees used to leave for work at 9:00 am previously and so there were crates of tiffins
leaving from the colonies but after the changes in timing, they can leave an hour later and
take their lunch with them as they have sufficient time for the preparation.


Many of the school and companies are now offering subsidized lunch in their in house
canteens. Hence ,the student and employees don’t have to carry tiffins anymore.


The eating trends have changed and so there is a decrease in the demand for the
dabbawala`s service. The number of eating options has increased drastically. Not only
restaurants but cheaper outlets serving a variety of meals are now a flourishing business.
These stall and outlet prepare huge vessels filled with a complete meal and sell it for etc
are among the variety of cuisines offered at really cheap rates. Almost every lane in
downtown Mumbai has some outlet or the other. People get used to the taste and do not
care too much about quality. In most cases, the quality is genuinely good in case of meals
that are pre-cooked and served.


Many offices have now started issuing coupons to their employees which are valid at
particular restaurants. These are known as ticket restaurants. Employees can enjoy
restaurant grade food at the company expense. Smoking joe`s , shiv sagar , copper
chimney etc are some of the restaurants.

Overcoming these threats is a great challenge for the dabbawalas. In most

cases, it is impossible for them to substitute the eatery stalls and subsidized food offered
by companies but the advantage to them still remains that their customers can get warm
home cooked food at the lunch hour

Porter explains that there are five forces that determine industry attractiveness and long
run industry profitability these five "competitive forces" are
- The threat of entry of new competitors (new entrants)
- The threat of substitutes
- The bargaining power of buyers
- The bargaining power of suppliers
- The degree of rivalry between existing competitors


Dabbawallas association dates back to 1890 this experience curve of 120 year serves as
huge entry barrier. No one could possibly replicate this supply chain network , their
unique method of coding and the use of Mumbai’s jam-packed local trains as its


The rates of the dabbawallas are as it is so nominal that one simply would not bargain
any further. Also their monopoly status negates any scope of bargaining from their


The use of minimum infrastructure and a total aversion to technology ensures that they
are not dependent on suppliers.


There is absolutely no substitute for the service offered by the dabbawallas.


Dabbawallas face competition from fast food joints and office canteens .since, neither of
them serves home food and growing health conscious among the people , the dabbawallas
core offering remains unchallenged

Strategic business unit refers to a business unit within the overall corporate identity
which is distinguishable from other business because it serves a defined external market
where management can conduct strategic planning in relation to products and markets.

Dabbawals have adopted strategic business unit ( SBU’s) concept way before it was even
introduced by Peter Ducker.

The dabbawalas are divided into sub-groups of 15 to 25 each who are supervised by four
mukadams. Each group is financially independent but co-ordinates with other groups for
delivering the tiffins to its destination. The process is competitive at the
customer end and united at the delivery end. In other words, each group
will try their level best to acquire maximum customers so that their group gets
more profit which is equally divided among the group at the end of the month.
But in their daily activity each group co-operates with other groups for the
collective goal of delivering the tiffin.

In the association code of ethics, no dabbawalas is allowed to undercut or out smart

another. Groups can coordinate among themselves to get new clients. This is unity at the
uniqueness of this competitive collaboration. There is unity in the delivery end, which
leads to a perfect, cutting edge performance by every dabbawala. Another remarkable
advantage of the group system is that there is backup for absentees.

The entire system is highly centralized:

The dabbawalas operate in groups of roughly 8-15 members. Around 120 groups are
registered. All groups are independent of each other as far as money matters are

Each group is responsible to generate money for itself. It is responsible for its day-to-day
functioning. The rationale behind the development of this model is to improve the
competitiveness of the system as such.

In the association code of ethics, no dabbawala is allowed to undercut another. However

,groups can coordinate amongst themselves to get new customers. This philosophy of
competitive collaboration is unique. There is unity at the delivery end, which leads to a
perfect, cutting edge performance by every dabbawala.

Some groups also have this understanding that when any one of the members gets a new
tiffin business, he treats the others on that day. This is an informal gesture of course and
there I no compulsion

A remarkable advantage of this group system is that there is backup for absentees. If any
one member abstains from work for some reason, another member from the group will
always be there to collect and deliver tiffins on the absentee’s behalf

As far as social activities are concerned, each group of the individual stations contribute
Rs.50 per member for the yearly Pooja that is held in their areas.


Utmost dependence on Human Capital

The most vital link in this chain of food delivery is human capital. The procedures could
have been laid down over a century ago, but it is the implementation of the procedures
that makes the system work. The Mumbai dabbawalas propagate that correct amount of
human dependence can yield amazing results.

Honesty and Integrity

The threads of integrity and honesty hold the dabbas together. Though it is lunchtime for
dabbawalas also, the aroma wafting from the dabbas has never tempted them.
Overcoming a basic instinct like hunger is possible only because of strong roots in a
culture that encourages truthfulness and integrity.

Discipline and Time Management

The dabbawalas operate on the Chanakya system of Sama-Dama-Danda-Bhed for the

errant members. This ensures that the errant member stays within the system. Secondly,
they are extremely particular about time and realise the value of every second in the value
chain. So much so that when Prince Charles wanted to meet them, they gave him a
precise time slot so that the thousands others would not have to skip their lunch.

Pride towards their work

The dabbawalas take their role as 'Annadatas' very seriously. For them, the delivery of
tiffins is much beyond a job – it means q quelling the hunger that strikes the customer
when lunch hour approaches. And so they move about their mission briskly with a smile,
making sure they are never late.

Complete Contentment

There was an unseen halo of positive vibrations around the members who delivered the
talk. The glow on their faces came from complete contentment with their lives. They
seemed as if they possessed all the happiness and riches in life. 'Be contented in what you
have' is the principle that governs their life. This is particularly surprising because the
members earn not more than 5-6 thousand a month and lead a very hard life compared to
most of us. Still there was not even an iota of stress on their faces – quite contrary to
many others who earn much more than them.


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