New air-entry routes: India’s harmful dilly-dallying

Published On: February 16, 2023 08:07 AM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

Nepal has reiterated its request to India to provide additional air-entry routes and early concurrence of the near border flight operation of the Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa during the recent visit of Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra to Nepal. Foreign Minister Dr Bimala Rai Paudyal and Foreign Secretary Bharat Raj Paudyal separately raised the issues in their respective meetings with the visiting Indian Foreign Secretary Kwatra. Government officials said the issue of new air-entry routes to Bhairahawa-based Gautam Buddha  International Airport and Pokhara Regional International Airport was discussed in detail during the foreign secretary-level bilateral meeting as well. In fact, Nepal has been placing the request at the highest political level with India almost since a decade ago. But the Nepal-India air route talks have kept going round in circles. The Indian government has so far appeared reluctant to grant additional air-entry routes, leaving the fate of Nepal's newly-built international airports in Bhairahawa and Pokhara uncertain. As a newspaper, we have been following Nepal's request and India’s rather dilly-dallying attitude. We strongly believe that it is also in the interest of India to positively consider Nepal’s request, given our friendly and multi-faceted relation and the shared destiny for peace, prosperity and regional stability.

Although there have been several rounds of negotiations between Nepal and India at various levels, the two countries have so far made little progress on this issue. Kathmandu has been badgering New Delhi to grant air-entry points through the L626 Mahendranagar route and Nepalgunj to facilitate aircraft movement to the Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa and Pokhara Regional International Airport.  Of course, New Delhi has agreed to provide eastern air entry routes of Biratnagar and Janakpur for all high-flying aircraft coming to Nepal. But these routes do not immediately benefit Nepal. Certainly, permits for the eastern air entry route will ease things up for flights coming to Nepal but the western entry route is what Nepal needs for the development of the aviation sector. This is more so in light of the fact that Nepal recently inaugurated Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa and Pokhara Regional International Airport. It is high time that India acknowledges the importance of providing Nepal with additional air entry-routes to ensure the smooth functioning of its new international airports.

Nepal is heavily dependent on tourism and trade, and a lack of proper air connectivity could significantly hamper its growth and development. The new international airports in Nepal are a step towards enhancing tourism and trade and regional connectivity, and India must extend its support to ensure their successful functioning. Providing additional air entry routes to Nepal would not only help in enhancing Nepal's connectivity but also reinforce India's own commitment to promoting regional connectivity, stability and economic growth. India, which is poised to become a global power, should understand that providing additional air entry-routes to Nepal is not a favor but a responsibility. India's support to Nepal during the devastating earthquake of 2015 was highly appreciated by the Nepalese people. It is now time for India to show its commitment to Nepal again by providing it with the required air connectivity that may spur the country's economic growth through tourism and trade. In fact, the dilly-dallying on the part of India to positively respond to Nepal's repeated request for additional air entry-routes has already increased mistrust that may eventually harm our bilateral relationship. It is in the best interest of both countries to promote regional stability and economic growth. India must acknowledge its responsibility towards its friendly neighbor, Nepal, and extend all possible support to ensure the successful functioning of its new international airports. A stable and prosperous Nepal would be beneficial for India and the region as a whole.

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