POKHARA, March 30: The then Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli laid the foundation stone for the construction of the Pokhara Regional International Airport on April 13, 2016. The Chinese company China CAMCE, which took over the construction of the airport with the target of completing it by July 10, 2021, started the work one and a half years after the foundation stone was laid. In the meantime, the COVID-19 pandemic spread. However, the Chinese company continued to accelerate construction.
The airport project has stated that 93 percent of the work has been completed so far. The deadline has been extended by one year after all the work was not completed on time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After a one-year extension, all the work has to be completed by July 10, 2022. The construction company handed over the airport to Nepal on Saturday saying that the construction of important infrastructures has been completed. The foreign construction company handed over the airport after almost completing the project.
But the work to be done by the central and local governments has not been completed yet. That work has not even begun. Local bodies do not know when the work will be completed. The airport will come into operation only after the local bodies complete the work. But the local bodies have not shown any readiness in this regard.
A senior airport official said: "The general problem has not been resolved. Until those problems are resolved, the airport will not be operational.”
"After the foreigners built all the important structures of the airport in four years, we (Nepal government) have not been able to carry out the work that needs to be done by ourselves," said the project official. “The operation of the airport is not possible until those works that need to be done by the government are completed.”
According to the officials, the work that should be done internally is not new but there is a problem as the bodies concerned have turned a blind eye. "It is a shame that when a foreign construction company completes almost the entire structure of such a large airport, we on the local level have not completed tasks like cutting down hills, landfill sites and sewage management on our own," the official said.
According to airport officials, the work of cutting down the hill has not started yet. Ritthepani hill on the access road should be cut up to 40 meters from below the peak. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process is underway. Cutting of the hill does not start without an EIA approval. A tender should be called even after EIA is approved. Project officials estimate that work will begin in April.
Calibration flight will be possible after reducing the height of the hill by 14 meters. But for regular take-off and landing, the altitude should be reduced from 12 to 40 meters. When the hill is cut down, 600 trees will also be fallen. "If the hill cannot be cut before monsoon, it will be difficult. Because it is difficult to carry out the task in the rain,” said the official.
Another problem of the airport is flood control. In the past, floods coming from the market area during the rainy season caused damage in the eastern part of the airport. That flood should be managed. Similarly, no canal has been constructed in the southern part to supply water for irrigation. There is a shortage of water on the south side of the airport but there is a risk of landslides due to unnecessary flow of water on the east side. No structure has been built to divert water from west to south.
The landfill site near the airport has not been relocated. If the landfill site cannot be moved and managed, it will be difficult for the airport to come into operation. The Pokhara Metropolitan City has been managing the city's garbage for years. The landfill site at Bachhebuduwa is about two kilometers away from the airport.
Animals and birds come to the landfill site looking for food. In that process, the birds and animals can enter the premises of the airport. Officials have been saying that the flights will not operate until the landfill site is managed. "The works we have to do at the airport have been identified since the beginning of the project. But so far those works have not been done,” said project chief Binesh Munakarmi. “These works should be started immediately. Otherwise, the operation of the airport will be delayed,” he said, adding that cutting of hill, management of landfill site and sewer should be done at the earliest.
Bishwa Shankar Palikhe, who is involved in the construction of the airport, said that this situation has come about due to the habit of asking others for help. “We have not been able to complete the tasks assigned to us," said Palikhe.
Palikhe, who is also the former president of the Pokhara Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said, "A large infrastructure has been prepared but small works remain."
Leading tourism entrepreneur Ganesh Bahadur Bhattarai is also dissatisfied with the work of the government body. He said, “Foreign contractors have done all the work but the local bodies have not done the normal work. He said that there was no will in the government for four years.”