Ni­j­gadh air­port con­tro­versy

People's Review - - COMMENTARY - PR PRAD­HAN push­para­jprad­han@gmail.com

The Tourism and Civil Avi­a­tion Min­istry is seek­ing a green sig­nal from the For­est Min­istry to clear the air­port area by cut­ting down the trees in the Ni­j­gadh for­est. Since the Tourism and Civil Avi­a­tion Min­istry started the process, protests have been wit­nessed in so­cial net­works as well as in the lo­cal me­dia out­lets. The en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists have also be­come ac­tive protest­ing the gov­ern­ment de­ci­sion to chop-down the cen­tury old trees. The pro­test­ers have ar­gued that why is it needed to cut­down 14 hun­dred thou­sand age-old trees, which will fur­ther de­stroy the al­ready de­te­ri­o­rated Chure Hill re­gion and con­vert­ing the tarai area into a desert as the Ni­j­gadh for­est and Chure Hill is the source of wa­ter for the tarai peo­ple. Also, they have ques­tioned on the oc­cu­py­ing of 8045 hectares of for­est area, which is too large for con­struct­ing an air­port. Mean­while, the civil avi­a­tion ex­perts and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials claim that it doesn't mean that the air­port is go­ing to be con­structed in the en­tire land. The Ni­j­gadh in­ter­na­tional air­port will be con­structed only in 2,500 hectares of land and the rest of the area will re­main as the airspace for the air­port. The Min­is­ter for Civil Avi­a­tion has made clear that all the trees in the area will not be chopped off. A max­i­mum of 2 hun­dred 4 thou­sand trees are go­ing to be cut down and new tree plan­ta­tion project will be launched on the ba­sis of 1:25 trees along with the chop­ping down of the trees. The Min­is­ter has ex­plained that the air­port con­struc­tion works will be con­ducted in a trans­par­ent man­ner and max­i­mum at­ten­tion will be given on min­i­miz­ing neg­a­tive en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts. Sure, the only in­ter­na­tional air­port in the coun­try, the Trib­hu­van In­ter­na­tional Air­port (TIA) has be­come very, very congested as air­craft have to stay on hold in the air for hours wait­ing for their turn to land at the TIA. TIA run­way it­self has be­come very haz­ardous and it needs to over­hauled as soon as pos­si­ble. As we don't have any al­ter­nate air­port, the sin­gle run­way is be­ing op­er­ated by in­stant pot­hole re­pair­ing mech­a­nism. Al­ways, there is one team on standby to re­pair pot­holes every time there is a land­ing of big air­craft. The en­tire run­way has to be re­con­structed as per the in­ter­na­tional stan­dards. Even though, TIA can­not main­tain the in­creas­ing pres­sure of air ser­vice af­ter five years. There­fore, if we want to de­velop Nepal as a tourist hub, we need an in­ter­na­tional air­port equipped with all nec­es­sary fa­cil­i­ties needed for a mod­ern air­port, like in other coun­tries. Ex­perts, who were in­volved in the con­struc­tion of an al­ter­na­tive in­ter­na­tional air­port, had iden­ti­fied Ni­j­gadh as the best place to con­struct an in­ter­na­tional air­port in 1995. En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists are also con­vinced that there will be less en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact if the air­port in Ni­j­gadh is con­structed. Ni­j­gadh is not the pocket area of wildlife as well. They ar­gue that as Sau­raha was the pocket area of wildlife and thus, it has been pre­served, but Ni­j­gadh for­est has not been iden­ti­fied as the for­est pocket area for any par­tic­u­lar wildlife, they ar­gue.

Some en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists have even ar­gued for con­struct­ing the pro­posed air­port some miles be­low the present site to save the for­est. How­ever, the civil avi­a­tion au­thor­i­ties and also re­tired of­fi­cials who had worked for con­struc­tion of the al­ter­nate air­port claim that in that case, the air­craft will be forced to use In­dian airspace while land­ing and tak­ing off. And even if it is shifted to the north­ern side, due to the hills, it is not pos­si­ble for big air­craft to land. There­fore, there is no chance of shift­ing the lo­ca­tion from the present site, they ar­gue. In con­clu­sion, we need an in­ter­na­tional air­port close to the cap­i­tal, within one hour's drive from here. The con­struc­tion of a fast track road to Ni­j­gadh has al­ready started. There­fore, we don't have any al­ter­na­tive ex­cept from con­struct­ing an air­port in Ni­j­gadh to ad­dress a long-term de­mand of an in­ter­na­tional stan­dard air­port be­sides TIA. We are also se­ri­ously con­cerned about the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact, but when the con­struc­tion is done with much care, there should be no fear. What we wish to sug­gest is that a strong mech­a­nism should be de­vel­oped to min­i­mize en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts. Like­wise, a strong mech­a­nism has to be de­vel­oped for re-plan­ta­tion of trees. As Chure hills have been de­stroyed, the gov­ern­ment should iden­tify the Chure lo­ca­tion for re-plan­ta­tion of trees. Also, the mech­a­nism should be de­vel­oped by giv­ing cer­tain years and out of 25 trees, at least five trees should be com­pul­so­rily grown. Con­trac­tors have to be as­signed for this project and they should be re­spon­si­ble for grow­ing a min­i­mum of five trees out of the 25 trees in the given pe­riod of five or ten years.

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