This Year’s World Environment Day is indeed a very important day for Nepal. With its landmark decision on Nijgadh International Airport, Nepal’s Supreme Court clearly spells out that the government cannot build the mega infrastructures at the cost of the environment and nature. However, Nepal’s political leadership including the leader like former Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, who made a global headline holding the cabinet meeting in Kalapathar to draw the attention of the global community to the climate crisis, takes a u-turn in supporting a mega airport at the cost of over 4 million highly valuable forests of Nijgadh.
As the global community is celebrating World Environment Day 2022 today organizing various programs aimed to protect the environment, and eco-system to prevent future climate catastrophes, Nepal’s political leadership indulges in criticizing Supreme Court for its order asking to protect the environment.
This year’s global slogan only one earth or Nepal’s slogan Our Planet Our Home show the environment is a global issue. These slogans manifests that the earth is one and the destruction of forest in one part of the world can damage the whole earth.
Prem Narayan Kandel, secretary at the Ministry of Forest and Environment said the world is now facing a triple planetary crisis of climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss and Nepal is more vulnerable to these effects as these problems have been affecting the Himalayas more than any part of the world.
“Progress remains insufficient, he said, citing continued environmental deterioration, including biodiversity loss. Nepal is home to many of the world’s highest mountains, which provide fresh drinking water. “
Instead of accepting the fact, Nepal’s political leaders are, among others, blaming India for its role in the court’s recent landmark decision. Although India is Nepal’s close neighbor and propose airport is close to its border and the destruction of forests in the region will have devastating effects, India took a neutral stand on it the whole controversy. Despite reaming silent, Nepal’s communists even some Madheshi leaders openly
For the first time in its history, Nepal is celebrating World Environment Day today when the government is openly challenging the court’s order not to build the airport at the cost of the highly valuable forest of Nijgadh.
Last week, the five-member full bench of the Supreme Court declared all the plans and programs related to building the airport at Nijgadh clearing the large forest areas null and void and directed the government to look the alternative to Nijgadh.
Delivering a final verdict on the public litigation petitions filed by Prakash Mani Sharma of Pro-Public and ten others, the Supreme Court on Thursday (27 May) quashed all government decisions to construct a modern international airport in Nijgadh, Bara as an alternative to Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport.
An extended full bench of the Supreme Court ordered the government to find an alternative site to Nijgadh if it wants to build the facility that it envisions will put Nepal in the big league.
The dispute over the construction of the airport had surfaced regarding the demolition of trees there. Passing a final verdict, the extended full bench of justices Hari Krishna Karki, Bishowambhar Prasad Shrestha, Ishwar Prasad Khatiwada, Prakash Man Singh Rawat and Manoj Kumar Sharma nullified all government decisions regarding the construction of Nijgadh airport.
Filed by senior Advocate Prakash Mani Sharma, senior Advocate Dinesh Tripathi, senior Advocate Rama Panta Kharel and advocate Sanjaya Adhikari, Shradha Suman Acharya, Khagendra Subedi and heritage activist Chanda Rana and Ganpati Lal Shrestha, the litigations argue that the construction of the airport will cause devastating environmental consequences including destruction Asian Elephant.
Petitioners At Supreme Court
As the hearing continued on the so cause issued on Prakash Mani Sharma’s case, former secretary Dwarikanath Dhungel, Ranjujajur Pandey Chhetri, Bijaykumar Singh Danuwar, Pankaj Kumar Karn and senior advocate Krishna Prasad Bhandari had filed a writ petition over the issue on December 3, 2019, filed case seeking immediate order to stop the cutting of trees.,
On December 6, 2019, a single bench of Justice Tanka Bahadur Moktan had ordered to immediately stop the construction of the airport there.
Following this, the fate of the $3.45 billion Nijgadh International Airport had been hanging in the balance for years, with successive governments pushing for it and environmentalists resisting it equally fervently, citing massive damage to the environment, and biodiversity, local communities and wildlife that the touted project would cause.
Located 175 km south of Kathmandu, the proposed construction site lies adjacent to Parsa National Park, which is a forest corridor for big wildlife like tigers and elephants, and home to rich biodiversity. The entire area is blanketed in dense forests of Shorea robusta trees, also known as sal or sakhuwa.
According to an environmental and social impact assessment carried out by the Tourism Ministry in February 2017, almost 4 million trees from the valuable rainforest of Nijgdh needs to be cut.
Contained botanically important flora and fauna, the destruction of the Nijgadh forest will also change the course of two rivers Lal Bakiya, Sirsiya and many other small streams causing more floods in Nepal’s south including the Indian Territory.
Environmentalists say a majority of streams in Bara originate from the proposed building site. These streams irrigate vast swathes of farmland in the southern plains. The airport will cut off these water sources. The national park is home to hundreds of spotted deer, 18 to 20 tigers, four to six rhinos and more than 60 wild elephants.
Park officials want 2 km of forest to the west of the Bakeya stream and 3 km of forest to the south of the east-west highway to be left untouched to conserve wildlife.
Although Nepal is a party to various international conventions including the bio-diversity convention, Paris Agreement and other numbers of international conventions, political leaders are determined to destroy the valuable forest to build an economically unviable mega international airport.
Denouncing the Court
Just a day before World Environment Day, Finance Minister Janardan Sharma announced on the floor of the House of Representatives that the government is committed to building the International Airport clearing foreign in Nijgadh. “The government is ready to take whatever steps it needs to build the airport,” declared finance minister Sharma openly defying the court’s order.
Maoist Center leader Minister Sharma is not alone to challenge the court’s verdict. Foreign Relations Committee of the House of Representatives under the influence of the former has directed the government to bring the law to quash the verdict of the Apex Court.
Similarly, the firebrand UML-US leader and minister of Urban Development Ram Kumari Jhankri also accused the court of interfering with the right of an executive saying that the government will defy the court’s order and build the airport at the place.
Nepali Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel also criticized the decision of the court requesting to review its decision to allow the construction of the international airport clearing the forest.
In a meeting of the committee in the presence of former prime minister Nepal, committee members even accused Supreme Court’s justice of bowing down to Indian pressure.
At a time when the court has been facing attacks from political leaders and people in power for its decision to protect the environment, eight civil society leaders finally come to defend the court.
In a joint statement, eight civil society leaders termed the direction of the committee as against the spirit of an independent judiciary. The direction issued on 30 May by the International Relations Committee of the House of Representatives is interference with Judiciary’s right to settle legal issues independently.
They claimed that the directives that came even before the full verdict of the apex court are unjustifiable. The civil society leaders, who signed the statement, include Damannath Dhungana, Anupraj Sharma, Balram KC, Charan Prasai, Kanak Mani Dixit, and Taranath Dahal, Geeta Pathak Shangraula and Raju Prasad Chapagai. This shows that the court is not alone to protect the environment.
In a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, lawmakers accused India of creating obstructions to building an international airport in Nijgadh.
Lawmakers have said that India is conspiring not to build Nijgadh International Airport. Speaking at the International Committee of Parliament on Monday (23 May), some lawmakers spoke about the international conspiracy, while others said India is against the construction of the airport.
Former Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal suggested the government draw the attention of the Indian government regarding the current obstructions in the construction of the airport
“India is building international airports in Raxual and Kushinagar to prevent the construction of Nijgad international airport. So Nepal government should talk with Indian side about it,” Nepal said.
Lawmaker Deepak Prakash Bhatta, JNU Graduate, said there have been obstructions in the construction of the airport to make Nepal a client state. In the meeting, other lawmakers stressed the construction of the airport removing all difficulties.
Talking to a daily news portal, Nepal sought clarification from the court on why it issued an order not to allow the construction of the airport. In his statement in the parliament, Nepal questioned on whose interest our court has been working. I would like to draw the intention that under whose influence the court issued such destructive direction?
He requested the court to reconsider its decision by looking at the country’s own interests. “I don’t think it is only environmental issues but there may involve another hidden issue as well,” said Nepal.
Although they split on the ideological ground, CPN—UML shares the views of Nepal on the construction of Nijgadh Airport. “The court’s decision is against the development wishes of people,” said Pradeep Gyawali.
As their own ideological orientation, communists thrive in Nepal playing an anti-Indian slogan. At a time when Nepal does not have money to back the smaller projects on its own, this kind of mega project at the cost of the valuable forest is not in the interest of Nepal and the Nepalese people.
Not only communist leaders from the hills, but even Madheshi leaders are also terming the court’s decision fishy. Jitendra Sonal, a leader from Madhesh Pradesh, denounced the court’s verdict saying that the local and external elements were behind the decision.
Nijgadh Airport DPR
In 1995, the government initiated discussions to construct a second international gateway in the plains as an alternative to Nepal’s only international airport in Kathmandu.
In April 2012, Landmark Worldwide Company of South Korea conducted a detailed feasibility study for the airport at a cost of $3.55 million and submitted its report to the government
Nijgadh was planned to be the largest airport in South Asia in terms of area, covering 8,045.79 hectares when completed. It would be developed in three phases with the first phase expected to last 10 years.
Post completion, 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 facility will have a parallel runway enabling it to handle 60 million passengers annually. A 76-km Kathmandu-Tarai expressway will whisk travelers to Nijgadh.
The proposed Nijgadh International Airport got embroiled in a controversy after an environmental impact assessment showed that more than 4 million trees would have to be cut down to build the facility.
According to one of the justices of the bench, the court has ordered the government to go for an “appropriate alternative” to build the international airport following the country’s laws.
He added that the court had not said whether or not to build the airport but to consider the environmental issue. “Everything will be clear when the full text comes.”
Despite the concerns and constraints, the government has zeroed in on Bara to build the international airport.
Investment Board Nepal decided to move ahead with the project regardless of the court ruling and invited potential bidders to submit proposals, insisting that the court order only prevented them from cutting down the trees and did not say that all work should come to a halt.
“I don’t think the court has made a blanket decision to stop constructing the airport at the proposed site. The decision may be to build the airport by lessening the possible damage to the environment,” said Dipendra Jha, chief attorney of the Madhes provincial government, who pleaded in favor of constructing the airport with minimum damage to the environment.
“The environment impact assessment report is also not credible. We need the airport, and it should be constructed by minimizing environmental damage.”
Although his ministers and party leaders are accusing the court, Prime Minister Deuba, who accepted budget allocations for the airport even after the court order, remains tight-lipped over the decisions. Given his political position, PM Deuba cannot resist implementing the court’s verdict.
Issuing a statement on World Environment Day, he said that protecting the environment is now an important agenda of the world and the Government of Nepal is serious about it. President Bidhya Devi Bhandari also called for the protection of forests.
Environment against Money
As the court has not issued any order not to stop the other international airport, it said that find an alternative to Nijgadh to protect the environment and forest in the areas.
The reaction of political leaders against the court’s verdict is understandable. With the tacit support from the mainstream parties, land brokers have heavily invested money in land. If the airport construction stops, they will lose a big investment.
“Political leaders are speaking the voices of their clients. Nobody cares about the valuable forest and resources. It is shocking to read the anti-court statement of Madheshi leaders whose voters will face the devastating consequences of the destruction of this forest,” said an environmental activist. “ This part of the forest is the jewel and asset of Madhesh Province. They can build airports in other places.”
According to the Land Reform Office of Nijgadh, over 4000 transfers of land ownership and other land-related transactions take place in the last two years in the areas. With a dream of an international airport, the prices of land go up 500 percent in the last four years. Some even started the plotting of land to attract people giving hope of high economic return after the operation of South Asia’s largest airport.
Civil Aviation experts hold the view that there is no economic justification to build this kind of infrastructure in Nepal. At a time when new fuel-efficient and technologically better long-range aircraft models are in the market with a capacity to fly up to 20 hours non-stop, what is the use of airports for transit? Having enormous fleets with them the country like UAE, Qatar is Saudi Arabia is building the mega airport.
Not only in the environment, is the airport economically unviable for Nepal. Sri Lanka is a good example to show how the construction of mega projects and economic mismanagement ruin the country. Court order saves Nepal from being economically bankrupt in a few years' time.
As environmentalist Batu Uprety in his article in New Spotlight said Finding Alternative: A Legal Gift To Nepali People. He is right.
World Environment Day
On this pretext of development and the environment, Nepal is celebrating World Environment Day with the global community by organizing various programs and calling for the protection of the environment.
World Environment Day (WED) is one of the more unique and special holidays because of its history and its many firsts. It was created on the first day of the first-ever U.N. conference which focused on humans and how they interact with the environment.
However, this didn’t happen overnight. Sweden first suggested having such a conference to the U.N. way back in 1968. And in 1969, the U.N. agreed that after 3 years they would have a conference in Sweden that focused on environmental issues. Interestingly enough, the conference was led by Maurice Strong, a Canadian diplomat who worked in the oil and mineral industry, who also had a soft spot for the environment.
Finally, it all came together in 1972, after 4 years of preparations and $30,000,000 later. World leaders from around the world sat together to discuss how they can raise awareness to protect our environment — and it was then WED was made. Then 2 years later, the first-ever WED was celebrated with the slogan “Only One Earth.”
Ever since then, WED has been completely embraced by people everywhere, so much so that it’s even slowly creeping into pop culture (and we love it!) Celebrities around the world all encourage people, in their own unique way, to do their part and “ save the world”. Fan-favorites Leonardo DiCaprio and Meryl Streep are some of the many who constantly speak out about environmental awareness. So, it doesn’t matter if you’re a famous actor, an athlete, or a student in college: gather your friends and spend a day outdoors doing fun activities towards preserving this beautiful planet. Believe us when we say, you’ll have a blast and feel so much better afterward.
Instead of dragging Nepal’s friendly countries like India in local issues and accusing the court, political leaders have to accept the verdict delivered by the court in the broader interest of the planet and go for other alternatives to such damage. They must stop thinking of a mega project which is not affordable for Nepal.