Presenting the budget for fiscal year 2022-23 (2079-80), the other day, Finance Minister Janardan Sharma announced that the government will continue preparing the Nijgadh International Airport project through Investment Board Nepal by determining the investment structure for the construction of Nijgadh International Airport. The government has even listed the project under the national pride projects. Of the 360 million rupees allocated for the airport, Rs 300 million has been spent so far.
The Supreme Court on May 26 passed a final verdict asking the government to find an appropriate alternative land for the international airport. Environmental activists and senior advocates had filed writ petitions demanding the nullification of the government’s decision to construct the project in Nijgadhin Bara district. Activists have been arguing that the construction of the project would cause huge damage to the environment including 2.4 trees to cut.
Passing a final verdict on a case filed by senior advocate Prakash Mani Sharma and Ranju Hajur Pandey, the extended full bench of justices Hari Krishna Karki, Bishowambhar Prasad Shrestha, Ishwar Prasad Khatiwada, Prakash Man Singh Rawat and Manoj Kumar Sharma nullified all government decisions regarding the construction of Nijgadh airport.
Located 175 km south of Kathmandu, the proposed construction site lies adjacent to Parsa National Park, which is a forest corridor for big wildlife like tigers and elephants, and home to rich biodiversity. The entire area is blanketed in dense forests of Shorea robusta trees (saal).
According to an environmental and social impact assessment carried out by the Tourism Ministry in February 2017, more than 2.4 million small and large trees would have to be felled to build the international airport, in three phases.
Last year, the Civil Aviation Authority spent Rs300 million to prepare a revised master plan for the airport. In April 2012, Landmark Worldwide Company of South Korea conducted a detailed feasibility study for the airport at a cost of $3.55 million and submitted its report to the government.
In 1995, the government initiated discussions to construct a second international gateway in the plains as an alternative to Nepal’s only international airport in Kathmandu.
The decision followed two deadly aviation disasters involving Thai Airways in the mountains north of Kathmandu and Pakistan International Airlines in the southern hillsof the Kathmandu Valley in 1992. Also Turkish Airlines aircraft skidded off the runway in Kathmandu in March 2015, causing the airport to be closed down for four days. These all were stressed as a need of another international airport as an alternative to Tribhuvan International Airport of Kathmandu.
Nijgadh International Airport was planned to be the largest airport in South Asia in terms of area, covering 8,045.79 hectares. It would be developed in three phases with the first phase works for10 years. After completion, the airport will be able to handle 15 million passengers annually and accommodate the Airbus A380 super jumbo. By the end of the third phase, the facility will have a parallel runway enabling it to handle 60 million passengers annually. A 76 km Kathmandu-Tarai expressway will provide easier access from Nijgadh to Kathmandu.
Investment Board Nepal decided to move ahead with the project regardless of the court ruling and invited potential bidders to submit proposals, insisting that the court order only prevented them from cutting down the trees and did not say that all work should come to a halt.
By Ram Dangol