A year after PM Modi’s endorsement, Mumbai’s ‘Digital Dabbawalas’ bask in success
The famous dabbawalas or tiffin-carriers of Mumbai. | Commons
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At the peak of demonetisation and the push for a digital economy, Modi had praised the Digital Dabbawalas initiative for embracing the latest technology.

Mumbai: Soon after demonetisation last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted praise for Mumbai’s famous dabbawalas for embracing the latest technology and providing digital services.

At the time, Modi was expanding his narrative of a digital economy, and the ‘Digital Dabbawala’ foray fit right into it. Although the venture was launched much before demonetisation, Modi’s tweet and his digital narrative helped push the dabbawalas into the limelight.

Going beyond ferrying lunch boxes

The ‘Digital Dabbawala’ offers services beyond the simple delivery of meals. After ferrying two lakh lunch boxes every day from customers’ homes to their offices and back, the dabbawalas also work in the evenings, offering door-to-door services for the registration of rental agreements, leave and licence agreements, and marriages to Mumbai’s citizens at a nominal price.

It is a joint venture between the dabbawalas and Pune-based Anulom Technologies Pvt Ltd, a government-approved rental agreement service provider.

Dabbawalas source clients, who register on the portal, create a draft agreement, and book an appointment online for their biometric verification. Dabbawalas then go to their houses with laptops and biometric machines, and register the agreements online.

Jaising Pingle, the very first dabbawala to be trained in facilitating digital registrations, said: “Our venture had nothing to do with notebandi (demonetisation). I started working in 2015, and we launched our website for Digital Dabbawala a couple of months before demonetisation. Then, in November last year, the word ‘digital’ roused people’s curiosity, and the prime minister tweeted about us, lauding us.”

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Pingle said it brought ample attention on the venture from the government and the media, and their popularity grew.

“Earlier, in one whole month, we used to have just four to five appointments,” he said.

Today, 22 dabbawalas work for the digital venture, enabling the registration of about 400 agreements every month. They do this after 4.30 pm, once their lunch box duties are over.

Anant Talekar, another digital dabbawala, said he’s glad he learnt his way around a laptop and a biometric machine last year. “One year down the line, things are going really well. We don’t have any work post 4.30 pm, and we can earn up to Rs 5,000-6,000 or more every month through Digital Dabbawala if we work part-time,” he said.

“Being dabbawalas, we know all of Mumbai’s areas very well, and people trust us too,” he added.

Digital push has reduced

Prabodh Navare, managing director of Anulom Technologies, which also has operations in Pune, said the company’s Mumbai operations are entirely synonymous with dabbawalas, and all the revenue is shared with them.

“Other than the 22 digital dabbawalas who execute the registration agreements, about a hundred more work to spread the word and get new customers,” he said. “Last year, there was a big surge initially. The official who heads Digital Maharashtra also spoke to us, saying we can enable the provision of more services through dabbawalas.”

Navare, however, thinks that the push for offering digital services has slightly reduced since peaking post-demonetisation.

“There is more focus on the other big important projects, such as smart cities and other infrastructure work. The focus on offering digital services has slightly reduced, which has impacted our ability to expand our offerings smoothly,” Navare said.

 

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