Facing numerous inconveniences each day is not a new thing for the citizens of our country. From scarcity of water, unsafe roads to mismanaged sanitation system, one faces several difficulties at each step. One of such sad realities is our very own Tribhuvan International Airport, a place where Nepal first welcomes most of its tourists.
“Very recently, a friend of mine came from India and I went to receive her at the airport. She had to wait more than an hour just to get her luggage. It was extremely embarrassing for me as this is the place where people get the first impression of our country,” says Twinkle Lohia, a recent graduate from University of Delhi. Kailash Pyakuryal, the founding vice chancellor of Agriculture and Forestry University, says that he has been travelling abroad from Tribhuwan International Airport since the 1970s. “Each time I land, I have difficulty in getting my luggage with ease. Very often some goods are stolen or the luggage is lost,” says Pyakuryal.
To help Tribhuwan International Airport better its management, Non-Residential Nepali Association (NRNA) along with Nepal Tourism Board and other concerned authorities launched a month long cleanliness campaign “Atithi Devo Bhawa” in June 2017.
The campaign aimed to train the airport employees, maintain basic sanitation, and improve general security. It also intended to equip the airport with the latest technology. “We wanted to show that a clean airport is not impossible to achieve in the prescribed budget,” says Shishir Bhatta, a member of NRNA USA and a volunteer at the campaign.
After a month long campaign, many expected the airport to be clean and well managed, to say the least. But sadly, in no time after the campaign, the basic facilities and hygiene of the airport was back to how it was before the campaign. “I did not notice any significant changes in the airport after the cleanliness drive. You still want to avoid going to the toilets at the boarding zone,” says Sajal Mani Dhital, a fellow at Nepal Economic Forum.
When asked about the state of the airport post the one-month long campaign Shishir Bhatta said, “As a part of NRNA we felt the onus was on us to teach what we had learnt through years of experience and expected the management to continue with the cleanliness process after the campaign was over. It clearly did not happen.”
The airport cleaning division, on the other hand, seemed ignorant about the poor sanitation facilities there. “We have a stand-by employee at the toilets of Tribhuvan International Airport. They are cleaned after every 15 minutes. Hygiene here is properly maintained and the toilets are safe to use,” says Rohini Bhattarai who is in charge of airport cleaning division. The reality, however, seemed completely different.
“Our airport is so dirty that it is suffocating. Elsewhere, even if you have to spend 12 hours in an airport during the transit period, it is not a problem. In our country, waiting for an hour at the airport becomes difficult,” says Deepa Pathak Rijal, a homemaker.
Many also seemed concerned about the cleanliness and the quality of the food served inside the airport. “The prices of the food served inside the airport are very high. Authorities should make sure that it is worth the money. They mostly sell inferior quality food products in there,” says Rijal.
“The shops inside the airport sell very basic commodities in exuberant prices. A bottle of water can cost around Rs 150. This is completely unacceptable,” adds Lohia.
When asked about the inferior quality of food sold inside the airport, Bhattarai, the in-charge of cleaning division responded, “The shopkeepers themselves should ensure that the commodities sold are of good quality. They should do their duty. That’s not our responsibility.”
Passengers were also dissatisfied with mismanagement at the airport. “Proper sign boards make travelling very convenient. It is very easy to spot information desks in airports abroad. Our airport is extremely confusing despite it being so small,” says Lohia. Pyakuryal, on the other hand, seems disappointed by the service provided by Nepali airlines to its customers. “We need to fill out the luggage claim form if our luggage gets lost but the airline does not inform us once it’s found. Elsewhere the carrier delivers the lost baggage at the address you have given them,” he says.
Some are even concerned about the security system at the airport. “Sometimes when the airport is extremely congested, they forget to scan our luggage. I don’t think this happens anywhere else in the world,” says Dhital.
However, the airport authorities are of the opinion that desired results can only be achieved if everyone works together. “You need to understand that the management of the airport is affected by various other factors. We want to make our airport better but we are not getting a favorable environment to do so,” says Premnath Thakur, spokesperson at Tribhuvan International Airport. “We have kept plenty of dustbins at various spots. But the passengers are ignorant and constantly litter the place. This is why stray dogs and monkeys enter the airport terminal, to grab leftover pieces of food.”
Devendra Upadhyay, general manager at the airport, claims that passengers and visitors do not take care of the airport property. “We recently installed automatic sensor taps at the airport. Most passengers manhandled it and many did not know how to use it. Now, these taps do not function anymore. You will often find western toilet seats broken down. That is because people climb on them to use it. We do not have the budget to constantly replace these expensive products,” said Upadhyay.
Along similar lines, Sanjiv Gautam, director general of Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, says that the situation at the airport will improve if everyone does their part without looking at anyone else to take care of everything for them. “We are stuck in the web of unskilled labor, inefficient manpower, corrupt political system, and untimely allocation of budget,” says Gautam. He also affirmed that the delay in getting one’s luggage at the international airport was due to the complicated customs procedure.
While what the authorities at the airport say about passengers having to do their duty is justified, it might also be true that the current unstable political scenario is negatively affecting their work and progress. But the question arises: When will we stop accusing others and shoulder the responsibility? Be it the authorities, airport staffs, passengers, political parties or the government, every individual and every institution in our country seems to be playing the blame game.
“It is true that the entire system is corrupt but we need to work together to get out of it. Everyone in Nepal should learn to do their duty and give constructive criticisms instead of blaming others,” says Pyakuryal claiming that as citizens we must all learn to share the blame and work towards building a progressive nation. As Bhahan Bhatta, president of NRNA, says we all are responsible to keep not only our airports but our courtyards, heritage sites, and our cities clean. It is not the duty of one authority but everyone is responsible to create a cleaner and better nation.