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Nijgadh Airport to consider environment issue: Minister

- SANGAM PRASAIN, Kathmandu

Sep 16, 2018-

Stepping into the raging controversy over the felling of thousands of trees for the development of the proposed full-fledged international airport in Nijgadh, the Tourism Ministry on Saturday clarified that the compensatory plantation of trees will be done in the ratio of 1:25, with strict enforcement.

The ministry said that the areas for plantation would be identified immediately after the Forest Ministry approves the felling of 769,691 trees for the first phase of the project. The Tourism Ministry has already sought permission from the Forest Ministry to cut down the stated number of trees.

The airport will be developed in three phases. The first phase, as per the detailed feasibility study (DFS) of the project, will be of 10 years; the second phase will be of 5 years, and the third or final phase will be of 25 years.

The project envisions building a modern airport in Nijgadh in Bara district, 175 km from Kathmandu in the southern plains.

The hub will be the biggest in South Asia in terms of area, covering 8,045.79 hectares once it is completed. More than 2.4 million small and large trees will have to be chopped down to build the swanky airport.

The airport will be gradually expanded, based on the passenger traffic, said Sanjiv Gautam, director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (Caan). In the first phase, the project will be constructed on 2,500 hectares out of the total area proposed, he said. “It’s not that the airport will be constructed on the entire 8,045-hectares of space allocated and all 2.4 million trees will be chopped down,” said Gautam. “Our [Caan] motive is not to destroy the environment, but we have to acquire the required forest land,” he told a press meet on Saturday.

In the first phase, two years will be spent for site clearance works, and then another five years will be spent on constructing the airport that will have 3,600-metre-long and 60-metre-width runway. According to the DFS of the Landmark Worldwide Company (LMW) of South Korea, after the first phase of the construction is complete, the airport will be able to handle 15 million passengers annually and accommodate the Airbus A380 super jumbo.

By the end of the third phase, the airport will have a parallel runway enabling it to handle 60 million passengers annually. If built, the Nijgadh International Airport will be an air hub joining 27 Asian cities and generate over 100,000 jobs, according to LMW report.

Tourism Minister Rabindra Adhikari said that the project, which has been on the drawing board for the last 23 years, would transform Nepal’s tourism landscape once it is built.

“There are many people questioning why Nepal needs four international airports. But the three international airports—the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) and the two under-construction airports in Pokhara and Bhairahawa—have geographical limitations,” he said. “Nijgadh, on the other hand, is the only airport that has the potential to establish Nepal as a transit hub- proximity to 27 major Asia cities.”

“We have already decided to invite expressions of interest (EoI) from global firms to build the infrastructure. The project will be developed under the build, own, operate and transfer (BOOT) model,” said Adhikari.

Initially, LMW had prepared the DFS for the project which envisaged constructing the airport under the BOOT model. It had estimated a price tag of Rs65 billion for the first phase in 2011. Five years later, in 2016, Caan estimated that the proposed airport could be constructed at a cost of Rs121 billion. In September 2017, the government formally assigned the Nepal Army to build access and perimetre roads and to clear trees at the proposed construction site in Nijgadh. A bevy of foreign investors have expressed interest to build the proposed modern international airport. India has also been expressing its keen interest to develop the airport.

In July 2015, a four-member delegation from the Airport Authority of India (AAI) inspected the planned site in Nijgadh. The visiting delegation had informed Nepali government officials that they were ready to invest in the project, either through the private sector or government funding or both, as per the wish of the Nepal government. “As the Nijgadh International Airport at the southern border point would be more accessible for a large population of Bihar, India is more concerned about the airport,” the delegation had said at the time. The proposed airport site is 22 km from the Indian border.

Published: 16-09-2018 08:14

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