They may constitute just 0.06% of the daily passenger count, but Mumbai's dabbawalas will soon have a large compartment all to themselves on certain suburban train services.
The luggage compartment at the south-end of Western Railway's (WR) suburban rakes, reserved for fisherwomen from 3am to 1pm, will now be reserved for dabbawalas between 10am and noon on all Virar-Churchgate services and between 2pm and 4.30pm on all Churchgate-Virar services.
"These compartments remain under-utilised after 1pm, so we have decided to allot them to dabbawalas, as per their pending demand," said Ity Pandey, senior divisional commercial manager with the WR.
"This decision is expected to come into effect in a few days."
This facility has been available to dabbawalas on the Central Railway (CR) since November 2011.
One luggage compartment is reserved from 10am to 12.30pm on all Kalyan-CST services and from 2pm to 4.30pm on all CST-Kalyan services, said CR public relations officer AK Singh.
While dabbawalas have welcomed the move, commuters are annoyed at what they see as special treatment for a very small fraction of the railways' 7.5 million daily passengers.
"Creating a separate compartment for dabbawalas is not the solution to commuter troubles. The railways should focus on a complete revamp of operations, increased services, better implementation of rules and strict adherence to the time-table," said Dipak Gandhi, president of the Mumbai Suburban Railway Passengers Association.
Added Anil Tiwari, member of the Divisional Railway Users' Consultative Committee: "Offering a certain commercial section privileged use of public property is not a wise decision, because this will prompt other similar demands. The rule should be limited to prohibiting non-luggage-holding passengers from travelling in the luggage compartment."
Raghunath Medge, president of the Mumbai Dabbawala Association, expressed gratitude for the move.
"Passengers without luggage crowd the luggage compartment and put our tiffins at risk of being soiled or toppled," he said.
"This move will go a long way towards improving our service and reducing our daily hassles."