Is the ruling alliance pulling an ‘election stunt’ in Nijgadh?

Published On: July 6, 2022 07:00 PM NPT By: Subodh Gautam

  • Second International Airport will be built in Tangia settlement, construction of Nijgadh Airport should not be delayed: PM Sher Bahadur Deuba
  • The Prime Minister directed to build an airport with two runways in Nijgadh.
  • Failure to build airport in Nijgadh will cost the state billions of rupees: Pushpa Kamal Dahal

The above mentioned remarks were made after the Supreme Court issued an order to find a place with less environmental damage as an alternative to Nijgadh to build an international airport. However, the government and the parliamentary committees are of the view that the airport should be built there, at any cost.

They have even made an on-site visit on an army helicopter with the aim of building the international airport in Nijgadh. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, CPN (Maoist Centre) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, CPN (Unified Socialist) Chairman Madhav Kumar Nepal and other leaders of the ruling parties, members of the parliamentary committees and lawmakers participated in the on-site visit.

A full bench of the Supreme Court issued the order on May 26. The full text of the verdict came on June 29. Despite the apex court issuing a clear order to look for alternatives to build an airport in Nijgadh which is unsuitable from all angles, the ruling parties have their eyes set on Nijgadh. Various political stunts have been pulled in recent times in Nijgadh, but why?

Prakash Mani Sharma, one of the writ petitioners at the SC, said the court's order has clearly stated that the airport should not be built in Nijgadh. “However, the government has been working to build the airport there. There is definitely a personal interest in this.” Sharma said, “They are devaluing the judiciary. It's not just about building an airport. It is a battle of constitutional law and order.” He mentioned that the ruling parties must have their ‘greedy eyes’ set on the forest and land of Nijgadh.

Sharma said that there has been a wrong tendency among the leaders to disobey the court if the order is not in their favor. “Isn’t it that this government was formed by a court order when KP Oli dissolved parliament twice? Oli obeyed and left the government. Wasn't the then all-powerful Royal Commission also scrapped by the court? However, at present, there is a wrong tendency to go astray if orders and decisions are not made in your favor. So, this is a serious issue against the notion of constitutionalism and the rule of law,” he said.

Sharma said that if they did not find other alternatives to the construction of the airport and insisted on building it at the same place, they may have to face contempt of court cases. "If they keep on insisting, they could face up to two years in prison and an explanation in court," he said.

“Why do they think that an international airport  should be built in Nijgadh when the country's economy is collapsing, the national treasury is empty and the country is facing elections and farmers are not getting fertilizers?” Sharma asked. "There is a strong selfish agenda hidden behind this.” The search for an alternate airport had begun after it was confirmed that the country's only international airport, Tribhuvan International Airport could not withstand the pressure of passengers.

In 1995, the government commissioned Napiko / Irad to conduct a survey to find a place for an alternative airport. The company had identified eight places including Biratnagar, Janakpur, Bharatpur, Nijgadh, Nepalgunj, Dhangadhi, Surkhet and Bhairahawa. Even after the SCs decision, the government has been pulling various stunts, stating that the airport should be built in Nijgadh without doing any research in identifying alternatives.

However, the court's order has reduced all previous decisions, procedures and studies to zero. The petitioner of the second writ and environmental lawyer Dr Chiranjeevi Bhattarai said, “Their instructions and statements are just political stunts. These things are making their way as the election is approaching. Despite their repetitive effort, nothing will happen. Their speech is not law.”

He clarified that SC has stated that identifying alternatives as well as the construction work should start from zero. “The order does not state that an airport should be built in Nijgadh. Wherever it is built, it should be built from the scratch with less environmental damage.” All previous procedures and decisions have been overturned by the court.

The Bhattarai group had filed a writ petition saying that the airport can be built in Nijgadh but in less space than allocated now. The petition was filed by the Bhattarai group during the final hearing of Prakash Mani Sharma's writ petition.

Similarly, environmentalist Dr Binod Bhatta suggests the government build the airport in an alternative place respecting the SC’s order. "If people do not abide by the rule of law, democracy and the constitution, then they can do whatever they like. Otherwise, no one will say anything if they build an airport in another place respecting the court's decision,” he said.

According to Bhatta, it’s not that an airport can’t be built in Nijgadh. At present, there are options to build it two and a half kilometers south to the proposed venue, south-east to the specified place, he said. “However, the work should start from scratch after conducting proper research. This will even reduce environmental damage. Also, it is not mandatory to build an airport as Rautahat and Sarlahi are also the options.”

Likewise, Bhatta said that the secret behind all this issue within the government is not understood. “The selfishness and motive behind this is also not understood. Their speech is sometimes embarrassing. It raises suspicions whether they have spoken out for political gain,” he said.

The SC has said another thing regarding this issue. According to the SC, the government has decided to build an airport in Nijgadh in violation of the law. Therefore, the government has been ordered to start work from the beginning by revoking all the previous decisions, environmental impact assessment report, feasibility study and all other processes. Meanwhile, judges are divided over the proposed Nijgadh airport, which has been the subject of much controversy.

In the full bench of the SC, three justices have expressed an opinion and two justices have expressed another opinion. According to the opinion of the majority, the construction of an airport in Nijgadh will cause great damage to the environment. Justices Ishwar Prasad Khatiwada, Prakash Man Singh Raut and Bishwambhar Prasad Shrestha have expressed the view that an airport should not be built in Nijgadh.

However, Justices Hari Krishna Karki and Manoj Kumar Sharma, on the other hand, ruled that the airport can be built in the vicinity of Nijgadh with less environmental damage. "An order will be issued in the name of the respondents to ensure that the international airport is to be constructed in a certain area, with a minimum capacity and minimal environmental damage and in a technically suitable location," the judgment said.

Although this decision was made on May 26, the full text was made public on June 29. The court has ruled that the location and size of the airport falls under the jurisdiction of the government. However, the SC insists that the actions and decisions taken by the government should be in accordance with the constitution and the law. It is also mentioned in the decision that it will be the responsibility of the judiciary to look into the decision made by the executive in violation of the law.

The court is of the view that illegal acts which are irrational, unfair, or against the interest of society or the nation cannot be considered outside the scope of judicial examination. The SC has explained that the principles of separation of powers, control and balance are valid. The court has warned the government that some types of ambitions may prove costly in the long run as not all types of ambitions are pleasant.

The decision to build an airport in Nijgadh of Bara was taken by the Council of Ministers on March 13, 2015. On April 13 of the same year, an area of ​​8045.79 hectares (80 square kilometers) was separated for building the airport. Similarly, the Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIA Report) approved by the Ministry of Forests and Environment was published in the national gazette on May 23, 2018. "The decision to cut down trees in the EIA report in the forest area has been found to be flawed on the basis of information and reports,” the verdict says.


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