NIJGADH INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT : Another Scandal

Pokhara International Airport (PIA) and Gautam Buddha International Airport (GBIA), Nepal's two brand-new international airports, still haven't started operating after a year. The government's desire to construct the Nijgadh International Airport while ignoring court’s order, economy and the environment is perplexing. The coalition government led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal has stated intentions to develop the airport despite a severe economic crisis in Nepal, where revenue has plummeted by 37%. In the aftermath of the current false Bhutanese refugee scandal, people are questioning the integrity of the highest government leaders, including the opposition party. Whose interests are served by the government's pronouncement that 2.4 million trees of natural forests and habitats of endangered Asiatic elephants will be sacrificed in order to build another white elephant?

May 27, 2023, 9:43 a.m. Published in Magazine Issue: VOL. 16, No. 19, May.26, 2023 (Jestha,12. 2080) Publisher and Editor: Keshab Prasad Poudel Online Register Number: DOI 584/074-75

Madhah Kumar Nepal, one of the leading proponents of building Nijgadh International Airport, has said that it was a mistake to build GBIA and PIA as two independent international airports.

When he was prime minister, the proposal to develop Pokhara Airport was put out, and his administration wrote to Chinese Exim Bank to solicit a loan of more than Rs. 20 billion.

After spending more than Rs. 40 billion, including a Rs. 20 billion loan from Exim Bank of China, the airport, which is believed to be technically unsuitable for even the operation of small planes due to the proximity of mountains, is now open without any international flights.

The former prime minister of Nepal acknowledged that it was a mistake that the international airport was created. Technically speaking, GBIA is viable and is confident in its position in relation to Pokhara. The GBIA is unable to function at its full potential because political figures like Nepal have failed to convince India that they will not harm Indian interests.

Nepal's communist leader, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, an essential component of the current coalition government, will be able to secure the new air route as soon as he lands in India on an official visit, guaranteeing the feasibility of the GBIA project.

If his most recent remarks are to be believed, Nepal has no intention to run these two international airports. He is concentrating on building a new airport, which will cost billions of rupees, just to buy and sell land.

Madhesh-based parties, who describe themselves as the protector of Madehs and Madheshi and who support the airport that would destroy their area and the assets of their people, support the Communist leaders of all organizations. RastriyaPrajatantra Party and the populist RastriyaSwatatra Party have both kept mute.

nijagad-ari-port.jpg

All political parties, from the extreme left to the far right, seem to be in agreement that Nijgadh will certainly destroy Nepal's rich natural resources and bring about the country's economic destruction.

Prachanda’s Interest

The Maoist leader Prachanda's administration, which is going through a terrible financial crisis, has announced that one of the contentious and environmentally sensitive enormous Nijgadh International Airports will be built. The government has not yet started using the two international airports, Pokhara International Airport and Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairwa.

Through the annual program that was presented in the joint sitting of the House, the administration made clear that it intended to move through with the construction of the Nijgadh International Airport in Bara.

In response to a petition filed by senior advocate and renowned environmental lawyer Prakash Mani Sharma, the Supreme Court's full bench issued an order directing the government not to clear the trees for the airport's construction. A young environmental attorney named SanjayaAdhikari has been keenly following the case.

Verdict Of The Court

The Supreme Court's complete bench annulled all plans to build the proposed Nijgadh airport on May 26, 2022, and ruled that if the government still wants to construct the international airport, it must choose a different location. The Supreme Court had issued an interim order to halt all works linked to cutting Nijgadh woods for airport development in response to two petitions.

Prachanda-and-Madhav-Nepal-say-that-social-and-political-rights-1200x675.jpg

With the release of a formal decision, the protracted discussion and legal battle over whether to build the Nijagadh International Airport has come to an end.

The Supreme Court made it clear in a 3-2 decision that building an airport at the expense of extremely valuable natural forests is unacceptable. Even slight differences in the judgments rendered by the two judges included strong requirements for little environmental harm.

"This verdict signifies the urgency of ensuring environment conservation and protecting biodiversity during infrastructure development and analyses alternatives to make the development environment-friendly and sustainable," argues environmentalist BatuUprety.

Active Lobbyists

Despite the court's strong direction, proponents of the construction of a multibillion dollar mega international airport at Nijgadh, including political figures, land brokers, and members of the small business community, have been working to claim that the minority judgment still leaves that option open.

"The Supreme Court's decision has put an end to Nijgadh Airport's construction. In each decision, the majority judgment of the judges is taken into account. The president is clearly within the law, according to former judge GauriBahadurKarki. Even two of the minority of judges have stated that it is wrong to harm a natural forest.

All former government judgments on the construction of a massive international airport in the Southern Terai were reversed by the Supreme Court in a 3-2 decision.

The court announced the complete text of the decision on the Nijgadh International Airport on May, 2022. The decision was rendered by an expanded full bench that included justices Hari Krishna Karki, Bishowambhar Prasad Shrestha, Ishwar Prasad Khatiwada, Prakash Man Singh Raut, and Manoj Sharma. After the hearing procedure was finished, the preliminary ruling was released on May 26.

oli-prachanda-madhav.jpg

Shrestha, Khatiwada, and Raut have instructed the government to develop the airport while carrying out an appropriate environmental impact assessment that ensures the environmental damage is low.

The Nijgadh woodland lands should not be used for building, according to the justices. "While it is natural for any development activities to cause environmental degradation, every possible attempt must be made to find alternatives to minimize such degradation," the ruling states.

“Nijgadh is the last remaining patch of CharkoseJhadi in the Eastern Nepal, a home to protected sati sal trees (some of which are nearly 400 years old), around 500 species of birds, 37 mammals, 13 reptiles/amphibians and 8 species of fishes (ICIMOD, 2019). IUCN listed this area as an ‘environmentally sensitive zone’ in 1994,” writes RoshaniGiri, a lawyer in her article.

“Among these species, 10 animals and birds are protected under IUCN red lists as well as Annex-I of National Park and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1973. Seven animals are under Annex-I of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), meaning they are internationally considered endangered. Nijgadh is also home to 22 endangered plants, including sati sal trees. “

Why it impossible

Due to the airport's proximity to the Sirsiya and LalBakaiya rivers, building it would have resulted in the flooding of vast tracts of land, escalating the floods. Technically, for an airplane to land at this airport, it must descend from Patana, India, which is very close to the Indian border.

Given its proximity to several important airports in India, including the Indian Air Force Base, Nijgadh Airport is not only physically unsuitable but also hazardous to the environment. Additionally, it is not profitable. The only reason the current crop of politicians are pressing on its construction is so that a small number of land brokers, lumber barons, and commission agents may profit financially, is nevertheless.

At a time when the government is unable to allocate the adequate budget to Nepal Army to timely completely the Fast Track construction, which has already delayed for five years, the announcement of mega project like Nijadh has no justification. For the construction of fast track, there need to allocation of over 100 billion rupees annually, the government is allocating merely Rs.20 billion.

“Politicians want to make money selling 2.4 million trees. This will pay huge money,” said Sharma. According to officials, the lumber's market worth of approximately Rs. 85 billion will cover half of the cost of construction.

Senior advocate Sharma warned that building such a large airport will financially devastate Nepal, similar to recent events in Sri Lanka. "Political leadership has demonstrated that they are the destroyers of nature by announcing the construction. We shall use the law to our advantage.

alternative to Nijgadh.jpg

However, the agenda has been advanced by the current ruling party, which is supported by Madhav Kumar Nepal, a former prime minister, and other communist parties.

The administration led by Prime Minister Prachanda announced plans to develop the airport in defiance of the court decision, giving priority to the multi-billion dollar project that is close to Indian aerospace and Indian government consent is most important for the operation of the airport like GBIA.

The government of Prachanda, in accordance with CPN-Unified Socialist leader Madhav Kumar Nepal, decided to move forward with the construction of Nijgadh International Airport despite growing calls for the opening of corruption-related files involving the Lalitanibas Land Scandal, Maoist Cantonment issues, and others.

The development of Nijgadh International Airport has slowed down as a result of the apex court's directive not to cut down millions of priceless trees to build the airport and to look for other land.

The Maoist-led coalition government passed policies and programs for the upcoming fiscal year 2080–81 without taking into account Nepal's financial status, the inactivity of two international airports, or the worries of domestic and international environmental groups.

The forest sections of Nijgadh contain uncommon botanical flora and are located right next to Parasa National Park, which is home to Asiatic elephants. President RamchandraPoudel also stated that the development of the regional airport will be considered and that the construction work will move forward, making this the last forest that is technically unfit. To ensure the safety of air services, he said that safety regulations will be strictly upheld.

Additionally, he stated that an improvement would be made to the domestic and international airport terminal building. He claimed that the finished airport would be fully utilized.

“The Nijgadh airport is a disastrous dream to conceive of in a conscious mind. We cannot afford such an offense against the already depleting biodiversity. Out of the 20 targets set for 2020 under Aichi Biodiversity Targets (under CBD) in 2010, including the target to halve the loss of natural habitats, including forests, we failed to achieve even one of them, which is alarming. We are now eyeing similar targets for 2050. Achieving these targets depends on the choice we make—the habitats of other species or developmental projects regardless of the costs,” writes RoshaniGiri the litigating lawyers’ team for the Nijgadh Airport case.

Supreme Court Nepal.jpg

“It is only sensible we take a step back and understand that once this disastrous project is realized, there is no going back. The forest will disappear. Its biodiversity will perish, and there will be consequences for us as well. The ethical question of Nijgadh again brings us at the cross-road of whether all development should essentially be ‘us against the rest’, and whether humans should be so inconsiderate that we give up on the survival of the rest of the species just to make our lives better.”

“The dense forest of Nijgadh , the proposed site for a massive international airport which is envisaged as an airline hub, is at the center of the environment-development equation debate in Nepal. While environmentalists argue that the chopping of 2.4 million trees constitutes an environmental disaster with serious repercussions, develop mentalists advocate in favor of the project highlighting the economic benefits that come with the new airport. All things considered, an international airport at the dense forest of Nijgadh is an environmental disaster,” writes Giri.

As Prime Minister Prachanda is paying his official visit to India, he should focus his strategy to open new air rout to Bhairawa. Instead of doing all these, he has pushed the construction agenda despite all court decisions and environmentalists' concerns. In the words of rising young environmental lawyer, SanjayaAdhikari the battle is not over yet.

More on National

The Latest

Latest Magazine

VOL. 17, No. 13, February.09,2023 (Magh,26. 2080) Publisher and Editor: Keshab Prasad Poudel Online Register Number: DOI 584/074-75

VOL. 17, No. 12, January.26,2023 (Magh,12. 2080) Publisher and Editor: Keshab Prasad Poudel Online Register Number: DOI 584/074-75

VOL. 17, No. 11, January.12,2023 (Poush,27. 2080) Publisher and Editor: Keshab Prasad Poudel Online Register Number: DOI 584/074-75

VOL. 17, No. 10, December.29,2023 (Poush,13. 2080) Publisher and Editor: Keshab Prasad Poudel Online Register Number: DOI 584/074-75