Kathmandu, September 28

Minister of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Rabindra Adhikari today told a Parliamentary panel that the government had no intention of  felling 24 lakh trees on 8,000 hectares land in Bara district for building Nijgadh International Airport.

Responding to the queries of the members of International Committee of the House of Representatives, he said the government would build environment-friendly airport. “If anybody is saying that the government is going to fell 24 lakh trees, then that’s a rumour. We are planning to build airport on 2,500 hectares of land,” he said.

He said environment impact assessment was done on 8,000 hectares of land. “This area will be approach control area and there will be runway clearance area around seven kilometres,” the minister added.

He said this would be a game changer for Nepal’s development and economy. “This will be a category-3 airport which means planes can land in zero visibility.  In Bara, the weather of Kathmandu and Madhes will not affect the planes’ landing and take-off. We can land the plane anytime.” He said there will be no terrain related risk and big cargo airlines can also operate from this airport.

He said the forest and environment minister had approved EIA on June 24 this year. “The MFE is fully responsible for the EIA report,” he said. Minister Adhikari said to minimise environmental damage, there should be one project under the MFE and it should plant trees around the country where necessary. “The government is planning to pay the cost of plantation from project work,” he said, adding, for that we are planning to amend the relevant laws.

He said his ministry will first finish the ground clearance, contract process and cut down the trees before starting the project.

He also said the runway could be constructed on 1,084 hectares of land, but that will be too small.  “There are such kinds of airports in Bhairahawa, Pokhara and in Nepalgunj,” he said, adding, “Now, we are just trying to finish all paper work and begin further work,” he said.

He informed that the ministry would make a call for expression of interest from developers. “We will not cut tress now, first we will select the developer and then draw a detailed feasibility report and start to work according to the report,” he said.

He said the government had decided to construct the airport in public-private-partnership (PPP) BOOT (Build Own Operate and Transfer) model. “The government is going to contribute for this airport, but the government can’t build this airport with its own resources,” he said, adding, the developer must be able to deliver good quality in PPP-Boot modality. “Otherwise we will go for another option — Government-to -Government model,” he said. “Within one year we will complete all preparation for construction.”

The government had decided to build Nijgadh International Airport in 2008. The ministry has already fixed the boundary and acquired 47 per cent of land required for the project.

Former prime minister and senior leader of ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) Madhav Kumar Nepal and his fellow lawmaker Bhim Rawal, Nepali Congress lawmakers Dibya Mani Rajbhandari, Narayan Khadka and Pampha Bhusal warned the government not to destroy the forest.

They all said the airport was essential for the country, but the government should care for the environment too.