Nijgadh International Airport: In Need of Prudent Actions

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-By CEO Team

Nepal is in dire need of alternative international airports. This is something beyond any doubt. The only international airport in the country, Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), has already reached its saturation point. Excessively crowded and congested, it fails to accommodate the increasing air traffic with the pathetic condition of infrastructures and facilities. It is as crucial infrastructure as the runway in recent years has witnessed potholes and cracks in a troubling frequency.  And, unluckily, there is no other alternative airport in the country to divert the incoming flights in case of such an incident.  On the other side, the government aims to attract two million tourists per year by 2020 by marking it as Visit Nepal Year. But this dream might remain elusive if no international airport is constructed outside the capital.

In this context, Nijgadh International Airport (NIA), located at Nigadh, Bara, has long been proposed as a viable alternative to the TIA. Not only the erstwhile government but also the incumbent one is advocating vociferously for its construction. In the budget presented for 2018/19, Finance Minister Dr. Yuvaraj Khatiwada allocated Rs 19 billion for the aviation sector, including Nijgad.

In fact, the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation has already decided to develop the airport under a BOOT (Build Own Operate and Transfer) model by inviting expressions of interest (EoI) from global firms for the same.

Tourism and aviation minister Rabindra Adhikari has been projecting himself as the prime mover of the project “It is going to be a category-3 airport, thus facilitating aircraft to land in zero visibility without any effects of weather.  Moreover, there will be no terrain related risks and big cargo airlines can also operate from this airport,” he tells to the media.

‘With a capacity to handle 60 million passengers a year, Nijgad is posed to be bigger and more advanced than Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi,’ he further claims.

“Preparation is being made to develop Nijgadh as an international hub which will be a transit for 22 neighboring countries. So, NIA could well be a game changer for the country’s development and economy.”

Major Problems

The airport has lately attracted plenty of controversies regarding its environmental impacts.  Sprawling over an area of 8045.79 hectares, the airport is proposed to be the biggest in South Asia.  Being such a mammoth project, its construction is bound to see the falling down of a large number of trees estimated at 2.4 million.

According to the airport’s Environment Impact Assessment report, not only the massive swathe of the forests would be flattened but a number of people would also face eviction in the process of building it. Environmentalists are lamenting that the construction of the airport may bring disastrous impacts on the environment, biodiversity, local communities, and wildlife. ‘It is going to be the most serious deforestation of the Tarai in the last 50 years by affecting not only wildlife but also hydrological ecosystem and agriculture,” they bemoan.

On the other hand, there are also serious suspicion over its very viability.  The government is still unclear about securing a colossal $6.7 billion needed to build the mega project.
The very question becomes more pertinent if one to consider the prolonged delay in completion of other ambitious projects like the Melamchi Water Supply Project.  Likewise, experts have doubts over how the project can sustain itself by attracting as many as 60 million passengers a year. The government officials tend to indicate to the increasing volume of international passengers in the TIA while rationalizing the need of the second international airport. But this very gesture does not seem to have a strong basis. There is always a possibility of a plunge in international traffic due to the drop of migrant workers.  In fact, Malaysia and Qatar have already been reducing the intake of foreign workers.

On the other side, no business plan or a detailed project report has so far been prepared though Landmark International, a Korea-based firm, designed the new airport city as long as ten years back.


Way Forward

No doubt, this national pride project is not only of strategic importance but also socio-economic import. That is why the focus should be on mitigating environmental damage as much as possible. In this regard, every viable option like carrying out massive tree plantation in and around the areas where trees will be cut down shall be considered.

In the same vein, the government needs to adopt concrete measures to make economic sense of the NIA. It will do well to move forward the mega project with insight and acumen.