“Roti Bank”- Mumbai Dabbawalla’s Initiative to Erase Hunger

Dabbawallas of Mumbai are also looking forward to sharing their thoughts in other Indian cities such as Lucknow, Noida, and Hubli.

Dabbawallas in Mumbai. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

There’s an old saying “To survive on this planet you’ll need 3 things. Guess what? Well, folks!! Roti (bread), kapda (Clothes) and makaan (shelter) it is.

Here’s a strange fact. Although there is plenty of food produced by the farmers of India, but it is not evenly distributed among the people. India ranks 3rd in the world for obesity constituting 46 million obese citizens (according to the journal Lancet). At the same time, it also is the hungriest nation of the world. The Dabbawallas (meaning the one with boxes) of Mumbai have taken an initiative to help the underprivileged gain access to food. As a part of their accountability towards society, some initiatives have been taken by the Dabbawallas so that the nation doesn’t go hungry-

  • Maharastrain weddings are generally big fat weddings. There is so much of investment, showcase, latest trends are done there. It is indeed an expensive affair. With so much of pomp and grandeur, with it comes food wastage which is very common in these marriages.
  • The Dabbawallas of Mumbai have come up with an interesting project named ‘Roti bank’. Their aim is to distribute the leftovers evenly among the underprivileged class.
  • One of the co-founders of this initiative Dashrath Kedare (also the leader of dabbawalla union) even said: “We deal with food every day, so we’re ideally placed to fix this”.
  • They believe that In India there are schemes such as midday meals for poor children of our society and even religious charities such as Langars in Gurudwaras (Sikh temples) are organised. But no one is focusing towards the leftovers.
  • An average Indian marriage comprises of at least 100 people and at most 2500. A quarter of the food that’s prepared is always thrown away. Thousands of tons of food is trashed every day in a similar fashion. Union leaders add that it needs to be properly distributed within a limited span of time. Otherwise, the food will spoil.
  • These dabbawallas have formed an extensive network in the whole city. With more than 4000 members in their union, they are an integral part of Mumbai’s social life.Even Harvard Business school has done a case study on these efficient dabbawallas. They know exactly where those homeless lives live.
Leftover food materials, Wikimedia commons
Leftover food, Wikimedia commons
  • They have a unanimous support for this initiative. The first pickup was done in December, from an event organised by an airline. Their impact was so influential that more than 30 wedding planners have now partnered with them. They get 20-30 calls every day. Their response rate is way too high.

Related article:Improvement and malnutrition in India

  • Those dabbawallas earn about 180$ a month along with their monthly train passes and reimbursement for bicycle maintenance. They prefer to work in pairs. However, some work during their morning shifts while some do it during their afternoon shifts.

    A packed Dabba containig food, Wikimedia commons
    A packed Dabba containig food, Wikimedia commons
  • They are looking forward to taking it to a broader level by having a tie-up with NGOs across the country. Rotibankidia.com is a new website launched by Talekdar and Kedare (leaders of the Dabbawallas union). People can donate their leftover foodstuffs via this repository website.
  • Setting up collection points at various local railway stations, they are trying to convert smaller contributions to into a substantial amount. They are also looking forward to sharing their thoughts in other Indian cities (with similar scenarios) such as Lucknow, Noida, and Hubli.
  • Even though these dabbawallas play a small role in our society but with the amount of kindness and the large heart that they possess, these people have certainly impressed all with their collaborative efforts. They feel accountable towards the society and are comparitvely better than those upper class people who have plenty to do on their part but are unwilling to do so.

Prepared by Pritam

Pritam is a 3rd year engineering student in B.P. Poddar institute of management and technology, Kolkata. A simple person who tries to innovate and improvise himself.

Twitter handle @pritam_gogreen


  • Pragya Jha

    being a dabbahwala is not an easy task. Its a 9 hour job they perform.