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Tree cutting permit only after confirming investment: Panel

- SANGAM PRASAIN, Kathmandu

Jan 24, 2019-

The parliamentary International Relations Committee has told the government to issue a forest clearance permit to the proposed airport project in Nijgadh only after making sure that investment will be forthcoming. It is estimated that 2.4 million trees will need to be cut down to build the airport located in the middle of a tropical jungle in Bara district.

The directive follows a recommendation submitted by a subcommittee of the International Relations Committee on Wednesday. The government also needs to be clear about the financial modality whether it will be a private public partnership, government investment, full foreign investment or investment through a government-to-government deal, the subcommittee report said.

The $1.2-billion mega airport scheme envisions building a modern airport in Nijgadh, 175 km from Kathmandu in the southern plains, as an alternative to congestion and winter fog at Tribhuvan International Airport—the country’s sole aerial gateway.

The House panel constituted the subcommittee under former prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal after protests erupted over the planned felling of 2.4 million trees for the development of the gigantic airport.

In the first phase, 770,291 trees will be cut down. “Obviously, there is huge concern over cutting thousands of trees. But the destruction will not be to the extent imagined by conservationists,” Nepal told Wednesday’s meeting. “Even bushes have been counted. We are now convinced that there will be no damage of the scale reported.”

The report has recommended carrying out compensatory planting of trees in the ratio of 1:25 before the tree cutting is started. To minimise damage to the trees, the report has recommended using the land at Tangia Basti to build the runway.

The report has proposed forming a powerful and independent body or a company to handle the entire process through a one-window system. The subcommittee has recommended scrapping the plan to build a smart city in the area by levelling the forest.

“A smart city can be developed in Simara which is a 3-minute drive from the

airport construction site,” said Nepal.

“Birgunj is also an option which is a 20-minute drive.” he added that four to five airport hotels can be constructed inside the airport site.

The report has recommended forming a panel of experts to review the detailed feasibility study report prepared by Landmark Worldwide Company of Korea in August 2011, and move ahead with the project accordingly.

The government has decided to own the Landmark report but it has not reimbursed the company for it. The House subcommittee report said that the government should follow process as per the law to compensate the Korean company to avoid any possible irregularities. The South Korean company had conducted the study at a cost of $3.55 million.

The planned construction site lies amid dense forests and will be spread over 8,000 hectares. The subcommittee report said that the entire area should be acquired so that the facility can be extended for the next 100 to 200 years as required. “The purpose of acquiring forest land, however, is not to cut down all the trees,” said Nepal.

Lawmaker Narayan Khadka said that a powerful and independent committee needs to be constituted where there will be representatives from all political parties. “This will ensure that the airport is constructed in a transparent

manner. It will also make successive governments accountable for taking ownership of the project.”

Recently, Qatar approached Nepal to build the mega airport in a bid to strengthen its presence in Southeast Asia and China in the wake of a blockade imposed by several Arab nations in June 2017.

A bevy of foreign investors has expressed interest in building the airport, but the government is reluctant to award the contract to anybody. It decided to develop Nijgadh International Airport, one of Nepal’s ambitious projects, in 1995. The timeline for the new airport was pushed back on multiple occasions amid concerns over financing and legal issues about its environmental impact.

Published: 24-01-2019 09:08

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