KATHMANDU, July 31: The Ministry of Forest and Environment had invited feedback and opinions for a week from April 27 on the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) prepared for building the second international airport but very few feedback and comments were received.
However, as the ministry gears up to build the national pride project which has also a strategic importance, it has received some feedback on forest protection and conservation of the project area, which is a wildlife corridor, mainly used by elephants. Many fear this may lead to the project meeting the same fate as Arun III, which was shot down by environment lobbyists in the early 2000s.
Officials at the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation themselves including officials and experts involved in reviewing the EIA expressed surprise over recent calls for protecting the corridor for elephants which tend to travel across the dense forest in tarai.
Two experts involved in reviewing the EIA report also said that they did not receive any feedback on protecting the corridor's elephants during that period, however, there were some concerns on protecting forest because as many as 2.45 million trees are to be cut down to clear the project site for building the airport which is projected to be a hub for South Asia.
All the local units including Nijgadh Municipality and Jitpur Simara Sub-metropolitan City have also given their consent for the project and a public hearing was also organized during EIA report preparation.
Mahendra Nath Subedi, a biologist who was also a member in the EIA review team, said that that they had discussed the shrinkage of the habitat of wild animals but did not have any idea on specific corridors of the elephants. “We may have to lose something for gaining something,” said Subedi, adding that the government should synthesize all scattered studies done on habitats of wildlife and make a list of sensitive sites.
The EIA report, which was approved and endorsed by Forest Minister Shakti Bahadur Basnet on May 23, states barbed wire fencing should be friendly to wild animals so that the animals won't be injured. The EIA has clear provisions of adopting mitigation measures to minimize loss and damage in the project.
Former Finance Secretary Rameshwor Khanal said that the project of Nigadh airport is very important and there is no point in being emotional on the matter of environmental issues.
Referring to the recent dissenting voices against the project, Khanal said, “It is unfortunate to discuss the matter of cutting down forest for the project or conservation of the habitat of the wildlife at this hour when the project is ready to start.”
Khanal had himself participated in a public hearing with locals when the Korean Company called Landmark was preparing the detailed project report (DPR), which the government of Nepal is going to purchase. “In my knowledge, the areas of the corridor for elephants lie far in the north away from the project site,” claimed Khanal, who also said no one had raised the issues over these many years.
Tourism Secretary Krishna Prasad Devkota said that there are no more environmental issues for this project and they will begin the works soon. Tourism Minister Rabindra Adhikari has attached top priority to this project which is expected to be started this fiscal year. The Ministry of Forest is also working on a guideline for relaxation of the laws for allowing the implementing agency or Ministry of Tourism in this case to compensate for the forest loss so that the Ministry of Forest itself will plant trees and compensate for damaged trees in other areas. But this provision will be only for national pride projects.