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. It is very necessary for all buses to have the destination and number written in English language and Arabic numerals APART from the ones in Kannada.However, I would like to point out some experiences of mine in buses in Bangalore. People traveling in ordinary (saada) buses DO speak mostly in Kannada. It may not be an exaggeration to say that if one wants to hear how Kannada is spoken , the right place would be these buses ! It is also not surprising since the average Kannadiga/ local person is less affluent and cannot afford his/ her own vehicle. It is also unfortunate that that quite a few people in the city (our own colleagues, relatives etc ) think that it is beneath their dignity to travel by bus (let us leave out the readers of Citizen Matters since the very fact that they do read this shows some awareness on their part !). All of us do have to do our bit in promoting public transport. WE NEED BETTER BUSES WHICH TAKE US EVERYWHERE AND WHICH ALSO TELL US WHERE THEY ARE GOING IN AT LEAST 2 LANGUAGES.

  2. @Priyank,

    Usage of English numerals in BMTC is absolutely needed. But the demand for bi-lingual language in not just BMTC but all public transport all over India is a dire need as all cities are getting choked because of over-population and narrow politics doesn’t help. We need to desperately clear our cities of chaos by encouraging public transport and bi-lingual boards are a small step in that direction. People should not miss their bus simply because they could not read the destination board on the bus. Those people would eventually take an auto or a taxi to commute, only to add to the chaos. Bi-lingual boards make things simpler and public transport more friendly to whoever is using it. All big cities in India desperately need to encourage and upgrade public transport and discourage private transport. Ultimately, language is a means of communication and the more easier the communication, the simpler life would be.

  3. @Gautam,
    I understood what you are trying too say.
    To show you that I am not silent about English-only boards, I gave links to few of my blogs in my earlier posts. Please go through them.
    Regarding the globalisation and the impact, I wouldnt talk about them here as the topic is broader.
    The Arabic numerals are used by BMTC along with the Kannada numerals – I wonder why you haven’t noticed them. Arabic numerals are what you are referring to as English numerals.
    These numerals – being universal – are helpful for people who do not know to read Kannada.
    The inclusion of English alone wouldnt suffice the need you are citing. So, let us not waste our energy on demanding English in BMTC. Instead, let us work towards making Karnataka a place where information flows smoothly to each and every person who knows Kannada only. I am sure you must have noticed several hospitals/shops/hoardings where information in Kannada is absent.
    I join Gautam in demanding you to come out with an article about English-only hospitals/shops/hoardings around Bangalore.

  4. @Priyank,

    I think citizenmatters should come out with another article about English-only boards in posh areas causing inconvenience to non-English speaking residents. I would join you in support of bi-lingual boards there.

  5. Priyank,

    “””””4. People who are vocal in demanding for English are not raising any voice for demanding Kannada usage also. Why the double standards?
    5. People shouldn’t be divided on language basis. Thats the exact reason why I am saying “let’s treat everybody as a Kannadiga”””””

    If this article had been in reverse, that is, English-only boards were in usage, I would certainly write the same stuff demanding Kannada boards along with English. I think you should concentrate on those high and mighty people who have English-only boards on their offices, especially, in posh areas such as MGs, Brigades and Koramangala. You guys are silent there and make a noise about bi-lingual boards in ordinary buses. Its strange.

    Having said that, usage of all Indian languages, especially Kannada, is reducing day by day due to globalisation and cultural changes in India. Its very unfortunate. Major cultures and religions of the world themselves are losing ground now to crass commercialisation and consumerism. In other words, consumerism and money are the new religions of the world. If this can happen to major religions of the world, not surprising that it can happen to local languages. We Indians have no respect for our own culture and values and our mentality hasn’t changed after the British left. Its worsened now.

    I think we should be conscious of being Indians first and then whatever else. We should treat others as fellow human being and whatever next. Not the other way round.

  6. CONTINUED….I guess the BMTC must have requested the Kannada Sangha people not to make a noise about bi-lingual boards in Volvo because they would undergo severe loss. Big people who own Malls, BIAL, MNCs, Corporate hospitals etc would put pressure on Kannada Sanghas or their equivalents in other parts of India to ensure that they continue with their bi-lingual (Sometimes English-only) boards. Ministers who swear by Kannada have all their kids go to corporate schools. So, this is a double standard. You have no problems with big people, corporates, BIAL but have a big problem with ordinary buses. Isn’t this strange? Priyank there are many shops on M.G. road with English-only boards. Why are silent about them? Why are you against bi-lingual boards and silent about English-only boards on M.Gs and Brigades?

  7. @Priyank,

    “””””Few have put forward an argument here that, the number of Kannadigas in Bangalore is less, hence the need for English boards. According to a study, number of Indians who understand English stands at 7% of the population. Despite the statistics, if we go ahead and include English, will it be sufficient?””””””

    This is a complete misunderstanding. I have repeatedly clarified that I am referring to not just Bangalore but the entire India, as this kind of narrow politics and regionalism exists in all parts of India. If an Indian can settle in any part of India, travel and move freely, there has to be a pan-India language that would facilitate this movement. Otherwise, we can have citizenship for all 28 states separately and ban movement of people. Regarding English speaking population, even an illiterate today can read English (Roman numerals). Our currency is in English. If we go by your logic, all 28 states should have a different currency. Strangely, you don’t have any problem with 5 star hotels, volvos, trains, Malls, BIAL, corporate hospitals, MNCs, big media houses etc displaying English banners and boards. But you have a problem only with BMTC ordinary buses. Where are your principles when it comes to them?

  8. A follow up to my previous post,

    4. People who are vocal in demanding for English are not raising any voice for demanding Kannada usage also. Why the double standards?
    5. People shouldn’t be divided on language basis. Thats the exact reason why I am saying “let’s treat everybody as a Kannadiga”. Lets be inclusive. We need an environment in Bangalore where everybody gets treated as a Kannadiga – equality.

    Let me know your thoughts on these.

  9. @Ashwin,
    My words have been mis-understood by you.
    I am not trying to spread any hatredness here.
    I do not consider anybody from outside Karnataka as an Idiot but I consider he/she as a fellow human being.
    Now that I have clarified my views on your questions, let me put forward few more thoughts for you to ponder over.
    1. Few have put forward an argument here that, the number of Kannadigas in Bangalore is less, hence the need for English boards. According to wikipedia entry – provided by Gautam – the number of native Kannada speakers are 39%. However, there are many people who consider themselves Kannadigas but speak a different language at home. Hence the number of Kannadigas in Bangalore is more than 70%. The same is reflected by the content aired by FM stations. The FM radios which have large listenership, air Kannada only content.
    2. According to a study, number of Indians who understand English stands at 7% of the population. Despite the statistics, if we go ahead and include English, will it be sufficient? If the number of migrants from a particular state hits a certain number in future, shall we go ahead and include that language also? After some time, one more addition.. This will be never ending.
    3. The people who are arguing for inclusion of English saying “it provides a clear means of communication for people who do not know Kannada”, have the same people noticed the need for Kannada at certain places?
    If they have, why not make an article about that? Is it because people who know only Kannada have no strong social voice? For more clarity on what I am trying to highlight here, please read:

  10. @aswin,

    “””Whoever steps on karnataka’s or Andhra’s or Tamilnad’s soil should sit and learn to write/read kannada/telugu/tamil text and numbers.”””

    I need to correct you here. This problem is not unique to these states. This is an All-India problem. The Hindi speaking states have similar feelings about south Indians and North east people. North east people are looked down upon in both north India and south India. Gujrathis don’t like Maharastrians and vice versa. Just a few examples. I had a tough time when I tried to catch a bus in Pune years ago as all boards were in pure Marathi. I had to shell out Rs100/- on an auto then (100 was a big amount then). In Chennai, I have the same problem. But luckily, chennai transport system is far better than any other city in India and hence the problem is not felt so immensely with regard to Tamil-only boards. In the north, its as bad as it is there.

  11. I am surprised to see a few people arguing against bilingual boards. I am sure having a Kannada-only board does NOT bolster anyone’s pride!

    Just two questions. Please choose one of the options.

    1. How do you want to treat a person you meet on the road who says he can’t read kannada-only boards?
    a) A fellow human being
    b) A non-kannadiga idiot

    2. Language is ONLY a means of communication. It was invented so that what we can share our feelings and ideas with other human beings.
    a) Yes, of course.
    b) No, Language is the very reason I survive. My language is the greatest. Whoever steps on karnataka’s or Andhra’s or Tamilnad’s soil should sit and learn to write/read kannada/telugu/tamil text and numbers.

    If you choose the As, you see you have no arguments here.
    If you choose the Bs, there is no point trying to talk sense here. Whichever way, let us not fill this forum with hatred for fellow humans. I believe we are better than that.

    Personally, I don’t care if the person is from Timbuktu. He’s here because he likes this city or works here contributing in taxes to the development of the place You and I live in and we should make his life easier too. Not just ours.

    As far as traffic regulation is concerned, I agree signboards are not going to solve all our issues, but is certainly a step forward.

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