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.


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.


  1. @Prayank,

    I wonder what you mean by protecting all cultures and languages and havign separate states for all. There are 1000 languages in India and a million different cultures. But there are only 28 states. Where is the representation then?

    I also do not believe that these people were statesman by any standards. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have the level of problems that we have today, be it in terms of corruption, etc.

    The problem is not with languages. It is with the consciousness of language and region. The problem is that most people in India are conscious of their region, language, caste first and then think about the nation. I am the other way round.

  2. @Gautam,
    if you do not find any relevance to what I am saying, convey the same. I will try elaborate and highlight the points so that it makes sense to you. Please do not use words such as “arguing for the sake of it”.
    Dr. Ambedkar was clearly of the view that not dividing the states on linguistic basis would lead to problems which no statesman can handle.
    I guess you will be more interested in, and .
    You must be knowing well that the different languages and cultures existed.
    While integrating them and bringing them under one roof, people promised themselves that every language and culture must thrive here in this land. If one langauge or culture fails, it means the whole of India has failed.
    Regarding the question that “Aren’t we Indians first and belong to their regions second?”, I would say please read this:
    We can discuss about that after you’ve read the article.
    Secondly, you entered this debate without knowing that you are demanding things which may impact the future generations to come in variety of ways. We are talking of bigger sociological things here, not narrow politics.
    Integrity through a nation is a far bigger thing than languages. Please understand that language has lesser role to play in the integration of a multi-lingual country like India. Despite being divided linguistically, India has stood strong and united for six decades now. A stronger Karnataka, a stronger Tamil Nadu, a stronger Andhra Pradesh will naturally result in stronger India. We should concentrate our efforts to strive and achieve a pan-Karnataka unity and growth. Thus, we naturally bring pan-India unity and growth.
    Dont be under the assumption that multiple languages will divide the country and lead to its downfall, come out of it.

  3. @Kishore,

    If you stand for that principle, first remove all the bi-lingual boards from Malls, BIAL, volvo buses, Trains, five-star hotels and then come back to me. Why are you bending backwards for the high and mighty? You are having double standards. One rule for the ordinary class who travel by ‘sada BMTC vahana’ and another for upper classes. You are also conveniently forgetting the fact that my reference has always been for all of India, not just Bangalore. When you go to another city, you have a hell of time if you want to catch a bus, unless you have money. I am saying this from personal experience. Why are you promoting regionalism? Fisrt get all the children of Ministers and MLAs to study in govt. Kannada medium schools. Why are you bending backwards for them?

  4. @Priyank,

    These are endless arguments. I have no time for all this. And we are also diverting from the core issue of public transport becoming more user-friendly with different improvements including usage of bi-lingual language. I am saying that this is needed throughout India and in all cities. It is not just about Bangalore. Are people Indians first or do they belong to their region first? Regarding statistics of floating population, even the govt. may not have it. There are rough estimates of people going to different cities. FM radios, wherever they operate, have to follow certain norms and laws. Local language of that region is one such thing they have to adhere to. Radio Indigo is a channel that is dedicated to English music. Does that reflect the demography?

    Finally, integration is wonderful! But why cannot that happen on an All-India basis? How can you divide people on the basis of language and then expect ‘integration’ to happen?

  5. @Priyank,

    I think you are arguing just for the sake of it. When I said that they were not saints, I meant to say that they were selfish politicians with vested interest. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have had India and Pakistan. You very know what I mean. But still arguing with me about “ಲೌಕಿಕ” and “ಅಲೌಕಿಕ”. These so-called social scientists were clever enough to twist facts. In that link, Ambedkar has clearly said that division on the basis of language is dangerous. Yet, he went ahead with it. Everything is shown to be rosy outside. But inside, we all know what is happening. Come on, don’t be so innocent. After dividing India into religion, caste, creed, region etc they went ahead with language in the garb of “protecting the different cultures, different languages, different races under one roof.” India has a thousand different languages, a million cultures, and several races. Then why have 28 states? Now several more states are facing further division. Demands are there. By the way, lets not deviate from the topic. We need something on a pan-India basis, beyond narrow linguistic politics.

  6. @Gautam,
    “”we were referring to passenger-friendly public transport and bi-lingual boards””

    why do you want to bend so much before the “floating population” as you call it. Every city has floating population and people from all across Karnataka also come to Bengaluru.

    Those few outsiders who come here to settle down, will learn Kannada and merge with the main stream if we provide such a convenient environment where they can practice what they have learnt.

    Today Bilingual boards, tomorrow there will be trilingual boards.. there is no end to this.

  7. @Gautam,
    Regarding the division of states:
    You mentioned that founding fathers were no saints.
    Yes, they were not. But they were social scientists who were experts in society and life matters. Saints have expertise in “beyond the life” concerns and shouldn’t be consulted for devising a social setup.
    There is a clear difference between “ಲೌಕಿಕ” and “ಅಲೌಕಿಕ”. Saints belong to ಅಲೌಕಿಕ school of thought. Social scientists belong to ಲೌಕಿಕ school of thought.
    I guess you didn’t go through the link I provided in my previous comment regarding the states-division. In the link, excerpts from Dr.Ambedkar’s works are mentioned and it clearly highlights the need for states on linguistic basis. The country India was formed with the promise of protecting the different cultures, different languages, differet races under one roof. That is the exact reason why states are given governments to rule themselves.
    The other problems of regionalism you mentioned – Coorg, North Karnataka, Rayalseema – can easily be dealt with if state governments are given the power to understand and address the issues in an inclusive way.
    In the current setup, central government reserves those rights. At the centre – as you must be well aware – help will be faster based on the number of MP seats one has. People of Coorg have been holding demnostrations in Delhi for over a decade now. Still, none of the central governments so far have listened to their voice and acted. Reason: whole of Coorg has only one seat.

  8. @Gautam,
    I have no idea of the percentage of the floating population in Bangalore or any other city of India. Please share if you have any data – I would like to educate myself.
    Secondly, I never mentioned that FM stations are a measure of statistic. The FM stations have commercial interest and as Kannada sells in Bangalore, majority of them play Kannada songs. This indicates that majority understand Kannada and consider themselves Kannadigas though their native tongue is different. Contrary to your earlier statement that 69% of Bangalore’s population is from outside.
    The other inference from FM stations data is, over a period everybody integrate well with the mainstream. There is nothing like “you” and “me” here. Whoever is new here, will be “part of us” later.
    Isn’t it a beautiful thing?
    Don’t you want such a thing to happen in our city?

  9. @Priyank,

    The founding fathers of modern India were no saints. It was indeed “a well thought-out process” to divide the country. Our own Indian govt. and the founding fathers have humbled the British in the ‘Divide and Rule’ policy. Much of history has been manipulated to the extent where evidence is not available. First, they divided India into India and Pakistan. Then, they divided it on linguistic states. There are already demands for more states in various parts of India (Almost all states have these demands on them). For example, Coorg, N.Karnataka, Vidharbha and Rayalseema. There was never a justification for formation of states on the basis of language. Look at the result of that now. Even a simple sign board on buses is being politicised.

  10. @Priyank,

    It is a well-known fact that all major cities in India have a huge floating population, which is unaccounted for in these statistics. The 39% figure is for residents who are permanent. What about floating population? I am referring to all cities and not just Bangalore. FM radio cannot be taken as a guide to statistics. They have a commercial interest and have to adhere to norms. By the way, we were referring to passenger-friendly public transport and bi-lingual boards. Why are you bringing in demography here? There is a need for some communication on a pan-India basis, apart from local language in all parts of India. Lets not divert issue from this.

  11. @Gautam,
    Wikipedia entry says that Bangalore has 39% native Kannada speakers.
    However, the number of people who identify themselves as belonging to Karnataka are more in Bangalore. Many have migrated over the centuries and speak Telugu, Tamil, Marathi, Urdu or Hindi at home. However, the same people identify themselves as Kannadigas – with pride.
    If their numbers are considered, number of Kannadigas in Bangalore would be much more than 70%. Thats reflected in the content aired in majority of FM stations in Bangalore – which is Kannada.
    So, let us not divide the people based on language. Many have seemlessly joined the mainstream over the years, so will the others who migrated recently. If only we provide the right environment for them.
    The right environment can not be established by regularly insisting that they are outsiders. They all should be treated like a Kannadiga in Bangalore.
    Please let me know if you differ with my views expressed in this comment.

  12. Priyank,

    Charu Sharma is saying exactly what I have been saying. Are you a united India or a divided India where, if we want to travel, we have to think twice? Nobody is banning out of state people from entering BMTC buses or PTC busses in Chennai or DTC buses in Delhi etc. Its about inclusiveness and having English boards in all cities is a part of that.

  13. Priyank,

    Definately so. There was a lot of politics behind division of country on the basis of language in the 1950s, quite against what was showcased (for administration purposes). The politicians have succeeded and this article and the replies/ arguments are an example of it. I have even heard of a story where states were divided over a closed door meeting where all of them were drunk and a map of India was taken and with a scissors, they cut it into different segments with you take this part, he takes that one and so on. (I cannot substantiate this at all; had heard somebody telling me this) But whatever it maybe, language has become a tool for politicians to divide India and make hay. These politicians who swear by Kannada get their children admitted to international English schools; same time they want local kannadigas from poor and middle classes to read and study only Kannada. This has resulted in outsiders taking away cosy jobs in IT/ tech companies. Look at this hypocrisy. Those who swear by kannada do the opposite in their personal lives.

  14. @Charu Sharma,
    Isn’t BMTC for all?
    I’ve never heard anybody saying he/she was not allowed inside a BMTC bus because he/she is from such and such place.

  15. Priyank,

    Thank you for those links. I will go through them. About the information about Bangalore’s demography, there are varying from site to site. But there are a few:

    I still hold the view that all cities in India, including Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune, Chennai etc. should have bi-lingual boards for the sake of convenience and courtesy. We should look from a pan-India basis and not seek to divide people on the basis of language. This is exactly what politicians want. Lets not walk into their trap.

  16. I do not understand why are we making a fuss out of all this. Is it that big an issue as we are trying to make it? Don’t we as an Indian have the fundamental right to live and travel anywhere in India? I am sure we do. So, why can’t we just work towards making the travelling for all. Is it so difficult to understand???

  17. @Gautam,
    Do you have the opinion that the country India must not have been divided on linguistic basis?
    Now that you have brought it up, please clarify your views on this.

  18. @Chaitanya,

    I beg to differ with you. Chennai is highly regionalistic and parochial. is that something to emulate? Many politicians have built empires based on the vulnerabilities of Tamils and their disposition towards language and stuff. This is an all-India problem. Thanks to the division of India on the basis of re-organisation of states on the basis of language. If narrow language politics is good for Bangalore, lets have it full swing. Lets ban English altogether. This is Karnataka afterall. Maybe, in Chennai, they can ban English after seeing us. Regionalism is a big problem all over India.

  19. Our Govt is doing good job & for those who come for livelihood , can compare there states. In chennai we cannot see one english word in any buses/shops !! if we want to settle in chennai,we should know either tamil nor Rajinikanth !!

  20. Gautam,
    Thanks for the replies.
    The Arabic numerals are the ones that are used in today’s BMTC bus numbering. These numbers are used by people who can not read Kannada in determining the route of the bus.
    I have been actively demanding for usage of Kannada wherever it is important.
    You might be interested in these blogs of mine,
    Do go through them.
    These are cases where language is an issue. We need effort and action in that direction.
    Let us not waste our effort in demanding something which is not much of a problem.
    One more question I have is, from where did you gather the data that 65% of people in Bangalore have come from outside?

  21. CONTINUED………2. I did not say that traffic congestion would reduce by 20% of boards are replaced. This is a very narrow perspective. I said that if all these suggestions are put together and public transport is improved, congestion would reduce by atleast 20%. The suggestions are in plenty but only a few have been indicated by me here. Having good quality boards, with proper font and style, bi-lingual language etc would definately be a part of those suggestions to improve. Everything adds up. 3. People would start using public transport more if it is friendly, convenient and courteous. Ability to read numbers is a part of that. Bi-lingual numbers are needed as people travel extensively and are used to English numerals more than any other. Lastly, when we take things to extreme, we lose out. Politicians across the world, not just in India, are fishing on these human weaknesses of ‘You’ and ‘Me’, the outsider and the localite. Be Roman in Rome is fine. But why are you not insisting that to Malls, BIAL, High Court, Five star hotels, Trains and Volvo buses? If we go by this, we need a different currency for 28 different states of India! When you travel to Chennai and Mumbai, or any other place, you claim to seek help. Both these places are quite parochial by any standards. People are not always obliged to give you a reply. Not all and not always do people give correct replies. Are we going to simplify things or make things complex by bringing in extraneous issues that whip up parochial feelings? There are simple solutions to complex problems and complex solutions to simple problems. We seem to love to complicate things.

  22. Priyank,

    “””””1. People (including you) can read English easily despite learning Kannada and English both.
    – as I pointed out earlier, such people are very very rare.2. The traffic congestion would reduce by 20% if boards are in English.
    – Thats an opinion not based on any study or research. 3. People will start using BMTC buses if boards are in English.”””””

    Let me counter your statements in the same order.

    1. About 65% of Bangalore is from outside. In Mumbai, it is worse. 30% of Mumbai are Marathis. Rest are all from outside. It is similar in other big cities. Nobody is asking for removing of existing boards. Its an alteration that is required for the convenience of passengers. Even vernacular (kannada, Marathi, etc) numerals need to be of a standard size, of a standard and uniform font and colour with proper illumination. English numerals are universal. Even our currency is in English. Our ability to spot and recognise English numerals far exceeds other languages. (This is sad but true). Finally, the cost of improving existing boards is a pittance compared to hi-fi solutions of metro rail. Metro rail has its own place. These small things make a lot of difference in commuting – be it Kannada speaking or not. Read my reply carefully. I have stated that even Kannada numerals need to be of a certain standard. In addition, we need English for convenience.

  23. @Gautam,

    This is a good way to debate. Thanks that you complied for my request.

    Let me answer the questions you posted one by one.
    1. Punctuality, stopping the buses at bus-stops.
    – Yes, needed.
    2. Courteous crew, dedicated bus lane.
    – Yes, needed.
    Fight for them.
    My whole argument was against the points you made – which are listed below – as a case for pressing the need for English boards.
    1. People (including you) can read English easily despite learning Kannada and English both.
    – as I pointed out earlier, such people are very very rare.
    2. The traffic congestion would reduce by 20% if boards are in English.
    – Thats an opinion not based on any study or research.
    3. People will start using BMTC buses if boards are in English.
    – People will use only if it suits much of their needs. Many do not use regular BMTC because it does not fit their route, the crowd in buses, AC or timings.
    If I am in a different place like Chennai or Mumbai, I would rather seek help from somebody nearby than waiting for 30 mins. I’ve done the same whenever I’ve traveled to other states in India.
    As the old saying goes “Be a Roman in Rome”.

    A final word: Your concerns are valid regarding multiple things. In the issues you mentioned, separate lanes, punctuality, courteousness take the first priority to be addressed. Press for them on priority basis. Issue of language just because you cant read Kannada faster – definitely not a priority.

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