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Works at Bhairahawa int'l airport fail to gather pace

- AMRITA ANMOL, BUTWAL

Feb 18, 2018-Works at the construction site of Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa have failed to gather pace, raising doubts over completion of the project even in 2019.

On November 13, 2013, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (Caan) awarded the Rs6.22-billion project to China’s Northwest Civil Aviation Airport Construction Group. At that time, the contractor was told to complete the project by December 2017. Had this construction timeline been followed, the airport would have been able to handle at least 16 domestic and six international flights per day by now.

But so far only 35 percent of the airport’s construction works have been completed.

The construction of the airport project was initially delayed due to shortage of fuel and building materials following months-long Tarai banda in 2015. At that time, the project completion deadline was extended to June 2018. But works were again delayed due to a dispute over payments between the Chinese contractor and the Nepali sub-contractor Northwest Infra Nepal. The dispute had stalled work at the construction site from mid-March to October, 2017.

Although the contractor resumed work in October, works have not been moving ahead swiftly since then. At present, the Chinese contractor has deployed only 200 workers, including 35 Chinese, at the construction site. Considering the human resources and other equipment available at the site, the contractor will not be able to finish even 50 percent of the works by 2019, experts with the knowledge of the matter said.

The airport project Chief Om Sharma, however, said the performance of Chinese contractor has improved since it changed its management following dispute with the Nepali sub-contractor. 

“The company is carrying out works with the target of conducting test flights within 2019,” Sharma said. “For this, the Chinese company will focus on construction works throughout 2018 and will install various equipments next year.”

The main financier of the project, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), however, is not very happy with the works of the Chinese contractor. Earlier, it had also warned to pull out of the project due to this problem. At that time, it had said it would not be able to finance the project further after its initial deadline ended in December, 2017.

Of the total project cost, the ADB has provided $58.50 million ($42.75 in loans and $15.75 million in grants), the Opec Fund for International Development (OFID) has provided a $15 million in loan and the Caan has decided to bear the rest of the cost as counterpart funding.

“From what I know, the ADB is now pretty happy with the pace at which works are moving ahead at the construction site. It will soon conduct an on-site inspection. Following that, the ADB might agree to continue supporting the project,” Sharma claimed. 

The Gautam Buddha International Airport is a national pride project that aims to serve the fast-rising business and industrial hub of Bhairahawa and facilitate international pilgrimage tourism to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha. The airport will also work as an alternative international airport and will play a key role in diverting air traffic from Tribhuvan International Airport, the only international airport in Nepal.

Published: 18-02-2018 08:37

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