Only Kannada people use ‘sada’ buses, says Minister Ashok

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Karishma Jain, a law student at the Hosur Road-based Christ College travels by bus from her Sarjapur Road residence every day. Since Karishma does not know the local language, she says she initially found it very difficult to travel by bus as the destination boards were in Kannada. “I don’t know Kannada. But now I know the numbers and the bus routes”, she says, even as she just gets off a wrong bus, thinking it was going towards Agara through Sarjapur Road.

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Karishma is among the 40 lakh passengers of Bengaluru who use the BMTC bus services every day. The BMTC has around 5600 buses plying on the city roads. Of these only about 800 have Light Emitting Diode (LED) destination boards that display information in both Kannada and English, says P K Garg, Director (Projects), BMTC. The remaining 4800 buses have painted boards with information only in Kannada, some with no boards and some with wrong route information. For commuters like Karishma, who hails from Uttar Pradesh, the language and the lack of proper information on these boards pose a problem.

BMTC buses

Only 800 BMTC buses have bilingual destination boards, while the remaining 4000-odd regular buses have Kannada-only boards. Pic: Vaishnavi Vittal.

But Karnataka Transport Minister R Ashoka, in a telephone interview to Citizen Matters, says that “ordinary buses (which have painted destination boards only in Kannada) are used only by Kannada people”. Tell him that Bangalore is a cosmopolitan city and has a large migrant population who cannot read Kannada, he asks, “What do I do?”. He further adds that there are no plans to change these boards and make them bilingual. “Only the new buses will have LED”, he says.

For their part, BMTC drivers and conductors, who really ply the system and meet commuters every day, feel that it would be good to have bilingual boards. “For people outside it’s difficult. It’s only the new buses that are getting LED. These buses are old. People ask us what the route of the bus is. Most of these people are those who can’t read at all and others ask because they want to reconfirm the route”, says Conductor B G Siddaram. BMTC bus driver Madhukar M also says that the boards should have English and Kannada but feels that the old boards will not be changed.

In line with those views, the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) Staff and Workers Federation says it has raised this issue with BMTC officials on many occasions earlier, but nothing has come of it. Says H V Anantha Subbarao, General Secretary of the federation, “We have pointed to the concerned authorities. See, ultimately it’s for the public.”  KSRTC Staff and Workers Federation is the state-level union for employees of KSRTC, BMTC and state-owned transport corporations elsewhere in Karnataka.

BMTC buses

BMTC drivers and conductors, who really ply the system and meet commuters every day, feel that it would be good to have bilingual boards. Pic: Vaishnavi Vittal

Subbarao says earlier, he used to receive complaints from commuters. “About a year back some people from Kolkata, who were in Bangalore, called me and told me. See, not much people complain. They should come up and speak. They should bring it to their notice. We’ll see, we’ll see if we can follow up now”, he adds.

Unsettled and lingering

The issue of language on destination boards of BMTC buses is not a new one. Indiranagar resident K V Pathy, a former member of the BMTC Commuter Comfort Task Force and  who has been traveling by BMTC buses for the past four decades, also feels that the destination boards should be bilingual. “Some years back, Mr. P G R Sindhia, the then Transport Minister, took a team to UK for study. When he returned, I suggested that he should make the bus name boards like what he must have seen on London buses, very well visible, lighted, easy to read from a long distance. Even today this is not done”, he says.

BMTC set up the task force in September 2003 with various civil society representatives as its members to make policy recommendations on urban transport. Pathy says that the task force had recommended bilingual boards then. “It is only a basic requirement, among others that the route numbers should be of sufficiently large size, which can be at the centre of the board with the destination written on either side in English and Kannada, again in large letters with good lighting at night. The route numbers should be also provided at the entry to the bus in addition to front and back sides. Needless to say all numbers should be same”, he adds.

BMTC buses

The BMTC has around 5600 buses plying on the city roads. Pic: Vaishnavi Vittal.

Like the Transport Minister, BMTC officials also say there are no plans to change the destination boards of the old buses. Garg says that someone or other raises the issue, from time to time. He calls it a ‘sensitive issue’. “It becomes difficult…Let it be as it is. As and when it comes, we will see. If I raise the issue, they’ll say you are from North (India), that’s why you are saying this”, says Garg.

Views from pro-Kannada groups

Former MLA Vatal Nagaraj of the Kannada Chalavali Vatal Paksha says that the Kannada-only boards must not be changed and those who live in the city should learn the language. “Kannada language should prosper. This is Karnataka state. Kannada is the state language. Those who come here should learn Kannada”, he says. In the same vein,  he says he is not opposed to the new bilingual LED boards for the higher-end buses and ‘accepts’ that as the government’s decision.

M Narasimha, Secretary, Udayabhanu Kalasangha, a volunteer-based literary, cultural and social organization, however, is not opposed to the bilingual signs for the regular buses. “Let English and Kannada be there, no problem. But Kannada should come first”, he says. 

What’s your take on Kannada signboards in BMTC buses?

Most people in the blue buses can read Kannada.

Signboards don’t matter, I always ask

I don’t use BMTC buses as I can’t read Kannada

I don’t use regular buses, but bilingual signboards are important


But even citizens who know the local language find it difficult to read the Kannada boards. Engineering student Veena S, who travels between HSR Layout and KR Market everyday, says, “I find it difficult to read Kannada fast. It would be good to have both English and Kannada”.

The state government is looking to promote public transport in Bangalore. The higher-end buses – Big 10, Vayu Vajra, and Suvarna — all run with bilingual electronic destination boards, and meanwhile the principal fleet of “ordinary” buses are stuck with their painted (only) Kannada boards. With Transport Minister R Ashoka stating matter-of-factly that these buses are used only by Kannada people, the Karishmas and Veenas amongst the 40 lakh bus users in the city will certainly not be amused.  


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About Vaishnavi Vittal 140 Articles
Vaishnavi Vittal is a Bangalore-based journalist.

25 Comments

  1. @Priyank,

    “””””I observed that you are mixing too many issues here. We can talk about them one after the other, otherwise the discussion will be very much out of sync. First one is, the issue is not merely about language but upgrading the public transport.Yes, I agree.Public transport has to be improved. Simply replacing the boards will add to any improvement? I dont think so.””””””

    If you say that kannada should be given importance in Malls, airports, volvo buses and trains, fight for Kannada-only boards in all these big places. Why are you concentrating on only ordinary buses?

    There is no mix-up of issues. I am just bringing in other issues to show the dichotomy.

    Regarding boards, improvement of boards improves usage of public transport. I have seen many people taking autos after waiting for a long time and not getting another bus because they missed the previous bus, for whatever reason (Lack of clarity of numbers including). To say that we don’t need good boards and good communication is incorrect. Punctuality, stopping buses at the bus-stops, good and visible boards in bi-lingual language and in good font size, on all sides of the bus, courteous crew, dedicated bus lanes all help in improving public transport. To single out one aspect of these and question it is naive. It is like asking : Does courtesy and stopping at bus stops help in improving public transport?

    Everything adds on. Courteous crew, stopping at bus stops, good, big and visible boards etc all go a long way in promoting public transport. Definately yes. You wait for a direct bus for 30 mins and due to poor visibility or inability to decipher Kannada numbers or Marathi numbers (In Pune and Mumbai) or Tamil numerals in Chennai, you miss the bus! How fair is this? Do boards help in public transport? Now you answer that.

  2. Gautam,
    The questions you posted are not making me uncomfortable – rest assured. I am happy to debate with you on these issues.

    As you mentioned, Kannada must be given importance in all the places. Be it, airport, volvo, malls or five-star hotels. Anywhere the due importance not being given is an objectionable thing.

    I observed that you are mixing too many issues here. We can talk about them one after the other, otherwise the discussion will be very much out of sync.

    First one is, “the issue is not merely about language but upgrading the public transport”.
    Yes, I agree.
    Public transport has to be improved.
    Simply replacing the boards will add to any improvement? I dont think so.
    The congested roads will still remain.

    Let me know your thoughts on this.

  3. Priyank,”””I didn’t want to mix too many things in my comments. Hence, I did not speak about bi-lingual boards in volvo buses and tri-lingual ones in trains. Its prudent to debate with real statistics I feel. Otherwise, the debate looks like shooting in the dark.”””

    Where is the question of mixing too many things? There is the question of public transport and the issue of Kananda language and you stand for a principle. Now, why is your principle applicable only to ordinary BMTC buses and not for trains and Volvos? Why not for Bangalore airport, Malls and Five-star hotels? Why not for five-star resorts? Why not for the high court? Do you have a selective application of principles? You seem to be uncomfortable with me asking you very uncomfortable questions.

  4. CONTINUED…….5. Metro is not the panacea for the ills of Bangalore’s transport. Rs20000 crores are being spent on it. More than 15000 crores of this are going into the coffers of contractors, politicians, bureaucrats etc. A govt. that plays politics all the time cannot be expected to solve any problems, big or small. If a simple thing like proper display of boards, illumination of boards, bi-lingual and with good font size cannot be done for political reasons, what can we expect from a Rs20000/- crores project? Its naive to say that public transport cannot improve with a bi-lingual policy, with clear boards and with good communication. Having more buses under JNNURM is welcome. But common sense is more required. Populism is over-riding common sense.

  5. Continued…….Now, let me counter all your arguments. 1. My slowness in reading Kannada or your speed in reading it is not the issue. We are not talking about personal issues. The city and all other cities in India have a huge migrant population. Even many localities in all these cities are not too comfortable in reading their own language numbers. The issue is not merely about language. It is more of convenience and improving public transport. 2. There is no doubt that the introduction of bi-lingual boards, and with good font size etc would improve public transport to an extent. What the extent is another issue altogether. To allow deficient service to continue and to clutter our roads to whatever extent it may be, just because we didn’t have a proper communication on public buses with proper display of numbers etc. is our stupidity. 3. This is the exact point of debate. You guys have created a class division among the people. In Volvos, it is bi-lingual because “Office-goers” take it. In ordinary buses, it has to be Kannada only. Yes, BMTC needs to be appreciated for its double-standards and hypocrisy. Is Kannada learning exempt for office-goers? Do migrant labourers have to suffer and pay more for travel by auto just because of this kind of politics that we are playing? So where is the pride of Kannada in volvos? Your arguments for ordinary buses should be applicable to volvos too. 4. If railways have tri-lingual boards, you guys should oppose it because it goes against your principles. If Kannada is not being used in trains within Karnataka, it is a serious matter. You should fight for it. I will support you in that.

  6. Priyank,”””I didn’t want to mix too many things in my comments. Hence, I did not speak about bi-lingual boards in volvo buses and tri-lingual ones in trains. Its prudent to debate with real statistics I feel. Otherwise, the debate looks like shooting in the dark.”””I have personally seen and even this very article on citizenmatters proves the point that volvo buses have bi-lingual boards. Vatal Nagaraj has no answer to this hypocrisy. I keep travelling by trains and I know that all boards are multi-lingual or atleast tri-lingual. What more real statistics do you want?

  7. Priyank,

    “”””My argument is that, English boards – though unnecessary – will never be sufficient to handle the problems you are talking about.
    Few cases, I would like to mention here are:1. Bangalore has majority of migrant labour population from adjacent states. These people know to read and write their language (neither Kannada nor English) alone. What do we do for them? Introduce boards in their language too?”””””

    If you feel that English boards are unnecessary, first of all, remove all of them from FIVE STAR HOTELS and all Malls. Why talk about Kannada and its glory only on ordinary buses of BMTC? Real glory of Kannada would be appreciated if all Malls, Five star hotels, are in Kannada and all children of Ministers (Including Vatal Nagaraj) study in govt. Kannada medium schools. They want to keep ordinary Kannadigas below poverty line by talking about “Kannada pride” and they themselves don’t want to adopt to it. English boards along with Kannada boards will help a long way in improving BMTC public transport standards. It is not the panacea for all ills of Bangalore. I never said that it can solve all problems. But a part of the problems associated with public transport usage in its current form would get solved. Having Kannada-only boards in ordinary class buses of BMTC is not going to help the plight of Kannadigas. Real progress would happen when Kannadigas storm all BPOs, IT companies which are as of now being hijacked by outsiders because the local govt. played langauge politics and deprived Kannadigas the opportunities for improving their skills. Regarding migrant labour population, they can very well read English numbers. Today, nobody can survive without that. Try to give a migrant, illiterate Rs50/- after getting work from him of worth Rs500/- and you will know that. Atleast for the sake of money, illiterates from Bihar and U.P. know the difference between Rs5/- and Rs 22/-. They can read numbers very well.

  8. @Priyank,

    “””Associating the day-to-day life’s problems with the language policy of BMTC is not making any sense Gautam. The more serious issues in life that you are talking about have more different ways to tackle them. Language is not a means to tackle them – dont be confused that it is.””””

    I meant to say that if you really want to improve the living standards of Kannadigas and do some justice, get your priorities right. You are wasting so much time on language issue as though Kannadigas would progress only by having Kannada boards in BMTC buses. Think for a moment. What are you doing about reducing high fares? What are you doing to reduce high cost of living? Are you going to concentrate on fighting for Kannada-only boards and forget about high fares, traffic problem etc. BMTC’s language policy is causing inconvenience to public as many people are forced to commute by autos and other means. This is adding to the chaos in the streets. Language is a diversionary tactic to evade more serious issues of high fares, rude staff, corruption, deficient service etc. Moreover, you still haven’t answered my question. Why are you silent about bi-lingual boards in volvo buses and tri-lingual boards in trains? [I am asking this the third time]Are volvo buses and trains not public places? Language is being misused to cover-up deficient services not just by BMTC but other public transport systems in other cities such cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata etc. If we go by this logic, tomorrow, Bal Thakaray and his nephew would demand ‘Marathi-only’ boards on all inter-state trains passing through Maharastra. This would mean that Karnataka Express that passes through Maharastra would have Marathi only boards. I see no sense in this. Language is a diversionary tactic. Its misuse of language.

  9. Follow up to my previous comment…..

    My argument is that, English boards – though unnecessary – will never be sufficient to handle the problems you are talking about.
    Few cases, I would like to mention here are:
    1. Bangalore has majority of migrant labour population from adjacent states. These people know to read and write their language (neither Kannada nor English) alone. What do we do for them? Introduce boards in their language too?
    2. The section of society I mentioned in my point#1 happen to be a good percentage of population that travels around the city in BMTC.
    3. The higher fares, jammed roads, lesser living space are all issues that have to be handled in multiple ways. Few of them I mentioned in my previous post.
    4. After all, how many BMTC buses run empty? I see almost all of them running fully (sometimes over) occupied.

    Associating the day-to-day life’s problems with the language policy of BMTC is not making any sense Gautam.
    The more serious issues in life that you are talking about have more different ways to tackle them. Language is not a means to tackle them – dont be confused that it is.

  10. Gautam,

    I didn’t want to mix too many things in my comments. Hence, I did not speak about bi-lingual boards in volvo buses and tri-lingual ones in trains.

    Its prudent to debate with real statistics I feel. Otherwise, the debate looks like shooting in the dark.

    The arguments you made for the English boards are:
    1. English is easy for you to read and you find it difficult to read Kannada, despite learning both.
    – Thats your personal problem and does not make a valid case for changing BMTC.
    2. Introducing English will reduce the burden on Bangalore’s streets by atleast 20%.
    – Thats an estimation from you, but it begs for real research data. May be, the journalist who created this story can come up with the exact number on this. Till then, let us not consider this as a valid case to be debated on.
    3. Volvos have bi-lingual boards.
    – BMTC has designed the volvos as an alternative for office-goers. Many (exact percentage not known) of office-goers in Bangalore are taking Volvos. BMTC has to be appreciated for this effort. As you must be knowing, much of the office goers do not board regular BMTC because of many reasons; crowd, number of stops, AC are few to name.
    4. Railways have tri-lingual boards.
    – Many of the trains travelling within Karnataka, do not even have boards in Kannada. Is this not an issue to be considered?
    5. Public transport should improve a lot.
    – Yes. Definitely. Govt is trying to bring in Metro for the same reason. Through JNNURM, govt is purchasing more number of buses to handle the public transport issues. However, public transport does not improve by bringing in bi-lingual policy – never would.

  11. Priyank,

    “People who are debating for introduction of English signboards in BMTC with the opinion that it helps in reducing the traffic problems are nohting but truly confused souls”

    Language is a means of communication. Having easy means of communication through bi-lingual boards helps easy accessibility to public transport to those who seek it. And those who seek it and get it reduce the burden on the streets. There is no confusion about this. But the real confused souls are those who mix language with more serious issues in life. If public transport improves a lot, I estimate that the burden on the streets of Bangalore would reduce by atleast 20%. Why are you silent about having bi-lingual boards in volvo buses and tri-lingual in trains? Can I know that? I am asking you again. You are silent about it.

    I am not saying that traffic jams are happening only because of bad public transport. But public transport is a key player in reducing traffic jams.

    Regarding intelligence and the science and philosophy associated with it, I am no expert. Nor are you one. Let’s not deviate from the topic of encouraging public transport. This is not an article on “intelligence” and “souls”.

  12. @Kishore,

    “””Don’t tell Kannadigas in their own land as to where they should promote Kannada and where not to. Public places are very important means of representation of our language and culture. We will never put Kannadigas at risk by removing boards in Kannada. Stop this hate campaign against Bengalurigas and Kannadigas at large. BMTC is meant for the people of Karnataka and you happen to come here to earn your living.””””

    These statements clearly point to the fixed mindset that many people have. Assumptions are trappings set by the mind. Firstly, you assumed that I am an outsider. I have lived longer than you have in Bangalore, born and brought up. You assumed that I am seeking the removal of Kannada boards, which is NOT TRUE AT ALL. If you advocate Kannada-only boards in public places, why are you silent about Bi-lingual boards in Volvo buses? Why are you silent about Tri-lingual destination boards in trains? Is it a hate-campaign to seek bi-lingual boards in BMTC buses or buses in other cities of India? Is it a hate-campaign to seek boards that are visible, and on all sides of the buses? Is it a hate-campaign to have boards and numbers of large font size? The controversy is not about Kannada VS English. It is Kannada AND English that many are seeking so that its becomes easy to commute and reduce jams. Lastly, this problem exists in other cities as well. Regional politics is coming in the way of encouraging public transport in all cities of India. And traffic jams are happening in all cities.

  13. @Gautam,
    If anybody considers himself able to read one language faster than the other – despite learning both of them – that person by any scientiffic measure, should definitely be suffering from below average IQ.

    I never did mention anything regarding the roads and roadblocks.

    The traffic problems are highly visible and are badly managed. The need for a clearly managed traffic is high, and I agree 100% with you on this point.

    The means to bring in traffic discipline are
    1. Wider roads – we have lots in Blore, but we need more of them.
    2. Adhering to rules while granting permission for any commercial establishment – one could see commercial establishments (large ones) having sprung up on narrow roads.
    3. Strict tests while issuing driving license – brings in good road discipline and has proved to be effective traffic handler in larger cities like New York, Vancouver and Toronoto.
    4. Making good use of the railways – Alas, the central govt wouldnt agree to this.

    People who are debating for introduction of English signboards in BMTC with the opinion that it helps in reducing the traffic problems are nohting but truly confused souls.
    No matter what language signboards are introduced, untill the above mentioned efforts are taken, the traffic problems remain.

  14. @Kishore,

    I didn’t advocate removing Kannada boards. I am saying that we need English boards as well and in parallel to Kannada boards. We need them in the front, back, side and at the door so that people can use buses easily and not take cars and autos only to add to traffic jams. Putting my Kannadiga brothers and sisters at risk? I would be doing a great disservice if I advocate what you are saying. What great service is that to the locals of Bangalore when they have to pay the highest fare in India, bare with rude Conductors and Drivers, unreliable buses, (You cannot travel in Bangalore after 10 PM or before 6 7 AM, and traffic jams and highest price of food grains. Look at the plight of the ordinary Kannadiga, who is not tech-savvy like you and me. Why is he paying highest fares in India for travelling in bus?

  15. @Priyank,

    Creating more traffic jams on the roads, bringing in the issue of language and discouraging people from using public transport, having high fares (Pushpak pass is Rs600/-), poor visibility of boards, rude drivers and conductors are all not signs of above average intelligence, by any standards. The dispute is not about Kannada boards being there. Kannada boards have to be there. No question about that. The question is about having English boards in addition to Kannada boards. The question is about having boards on atleast three sides of the bus for greater convenience and visibility. The question is about having consumer comfort. The bottomline is to allow people easy and comfortable travel within the city so that not only they benefit, as public transport becomes more easy, traffic jams would reduce. Lets not play regionalism here. Traffic jams affect you and me. I am a Kannadiga myself. But we need to reduce traffic jams at all costs. If you advocate Kannada only boards, have them on Volvo buses too. Have them on all trains that enter Karnataka. Why discourage public transport in Bangalore and indirectly help create more traffic jams in Bangalore by talking about language?

  16. @Gautam
    you are a localite? So much for being a Kannadiga who would want to put their Kannadiga brothers and Sisters at risk by advocating non-Kannada boards. what a shame.

  17. @Gautam
    “”Lets keep promotion of Kannada in other places such as software companies and BPOs. “”

    Don’t tell Kannadigas in their own land as to where they should promote Kannada and where not to. Public places are very important means of representation of our language and culture. We will never put Kannadigas at risk by removing boards in Kannada. Stop this hate campaign against Bengalurigas and Kannadigas at large.

    BMTC is meant for the people of Karnataka and you happen to come here to earn your living. Be a Roman in Rome.

  18. If anybody thinks that he can read English faster than Kannada, the statment reflects the person’s below average IQ.
    Many of my colleagues who have re-located to Bangalore have learnt to read and write Kannada. They are very comfortable in reading it faster too.

  19. To all those people who advocate the usage of Kannada alone on buses, think for a moment. The issue is not about respecting Kannada or learning it. It is more of encouraging public transport and allowing free movement of people on the roads. Again it is not just about Kannada numbers but about the proper display, visibility and ensuring that people don’t clutter the streets. Lets keep promotion of Kannada in other places such as software companies and BPOs. Lets not add to traffic jams. Ultimately, everybody will be affected by this wrong move. This is a wrong move not just for Bangalore. It will be so for any city which plays such politics.

  20. The fundamental problem in this is the blunder of re-organisation of states on the basis of language. People have lost their common sense. Ashok is sounding really stupid. I have seen and I know plenty of people from outside who travel by ordinary buses. Being a localite myself, I cannot read Kannada as fast as English. This entire controversy is more of language politics and less of common sense. Plenty of hypocrisy in what Vatal Nagaraj says. He has no problem in English boards for volvo buses but has a problem only for ordinary buses. Lastly, the big question is: Do we want people not to use buses or discourage them simply because they couldn’t read Kannada numbers and clutter the roads of Bangalore with autos and cars???? This is the bigger question. Having said this, all other cities should adopt bi-lingual language including Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, and Delhi. Are we going to play language politics or encourage public transport?

  21. I guess it is better the way it is. One should not smash all boards and replace with english boards just becuase some people happen to come to Bengaluru in search of job.

    If they want to live here, they have learn and respect Kannada. I think the Govt. is doing a good job. Atleast it is not causing any hardship for Kannadiga commuters.

    The Kannada boards will never be replaced for the sake of those very few commuters who happen to come here for earning their livelihood.

  22. This is something I come across everyday. Being a trainee journalist, I myself did a story on this. I feel this seeks serious consideration. And the comment by Transport Minister is “silly”. He needs to check the facts before making a statement like that.

  23. Great article about our leaders’ competitive spirit in the game of mediocrity and stupidity. Ashok, the Transport Minister has stupidity written all over his face!

  24. I do not understand BMTC’s stand on listening to customer complaints. I commute everyday to office by BMTC Volvo service. If we complain on seats or the A/C problem or rash driving to the conductor, he says he cannot do anything and he says these complaints will not be attended unless large number of people complain about the same issue to BMTC customer care. When I asked how many complaints? he says he is not sure. This is the state. So I guess BMTC will not listen to conductors or drivers. As per them they will act on the complaint only if it is complained by large number of people. How pathetic it sounds!? What do you want to say to this Mr.Ashok?

    And I completely disagree with Ashok for saying only Kannada people use ‘Sada’ buses. It sounds absolutely silly to answer like this.

  25. Only Kannada speaking people travel in the ordinary buses?! What nonsense! The bus system should serve for the convenience of city residents and visitors, whether from Kannada reading or not. Is that not the basic sign of a kind courteous city? We should have bilingual boards, which are well lit, especially at night and in large font. An LED board is not particularly necessary.

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