Nijgadh airport must be built

Published On: August 1, 2018 02:00 AM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

Why we need alternative and additional international airports is obvious. Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), the only international airport in the country, has become too crowded, too congested and is too small to contain increasing air traffic. In case something happens on the runway (which has happened with a troubling frequency in the recent years), we have no alternative airport to divert the incoming flights within Nepal. Besides, we are aiming to bring in two million tourists per year by 2020 and celebrate it as Visit Nepal year. This will remain a pipedream as long as we have only one international airport in Kathmandu. Under the federal set up, there is growing need to establishing international airports in locations that cover as many as total of seven provinces. This is why we have long been advocating for speedy works to complete Bhairahawa Regional International Airport, Pokhara Regional International Airport, and Nijgadh International Airport, which will be Nepal’s second international airport. The previous government had also made it a top priority. The erstwhile Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Jitendra Narayan Dev had advocated for expediting Nijgadh airport project with priority. 

In recent times, however, we feel that debates on Nijgadh airport are being focused on environmental concerns. As the Ministry of Forest and Environment gears up to build the national pride project of strategic importance, it has received feedback on forest protection and conservation of the project area, a wildlife corridor mainly used by elephants. Officials at the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Avaition, including those involved in reviewing Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), have expressed surprise over recent calls for protecting the corridor for elephants. The lingering fear is that Nijgadh airport project might meet the fate of Arun III—one of the most vital hydro projects of the country—which was partly shut down by environment lobbyists in the early 1990s. With Nijgadh, this must not be allowed to happen.

There is a consensus that Nijgadh must be built as soon as possible. Local units including Nijgadh Municipality and Jitpur Simara Sub-metropolitan City have already given their consent for the project. The concern of environmentalists that the project must not be carried out at the great cost of environmental imbalance is valid. A large number of trees—as many as 2.45 million— will have to be cut down to clear the project site for building the airport. But if we only stick to prospects of colossal loss of trees without thinking of planting as many numbers of trees or more in or around Nijgadh area, we are going to push Nijgadh into an uncertain state. Nijgadh airport is going become the hub for South Asia and, upon its completion and operation; it is going to be the game changer for Province 2 and the entire country. Our focus should therefore be on how to minimize environmental damage as much as possible and to carry out massive tree plantation in and around the areas where trees will be cut down. It would be unwise and detrimental to stall this project in one or other excuse. Nijgadh must be built. This should be the bottom line of the current debate, from whichever angle we argue.

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