Editorial: Don’t delay NIA

Nijgadh is the most suitable place for a full-fledged international airport, and there is no point in delaying it any further

Nepal’s only international airport - Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) - must count itself lucky that two airports, at Bhairahawa and Pokhara, will be ready soon to cater to international flights involving big jets. With just one runway for both take off and landing and limited parking lots, TIA is congested beyond measure, and is badly in need of a big airport to ease the overcrowding of planes. Soon after multi-party democracy was ushered into the country in 1990, plans had been floated for the construction of a second international airport at Nijgadh, in Simra to the south of Kathmandu. But more than two decades have passed in preparing the detailed project report (DPR) and talking about how to save the environment. Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai had given assurances that the foundation stone of the Nijgadh International Airport (NIA) would be laid in mid-December this year, with the firm belief that begun is half done. But a quarterly report of the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA) has revealed that quite a few preparations require completing before its construction can begin in earnest.

The most important condition for the airport’s construction is site clearance. Although the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) has prepared the framework for site clearance, it has yet to receive a nod from the Ministry of Forests and Environment to cut down the trees. To be built in the midst of a dense jungle, the airport would require cutting massive number of trees – said to be anywhere between 200,000 and 760,000 – which has created quite a furore among environmentalists. The government has also not decided on the construction modality. There are three options, namely, G2G (government to government), PPP (public, private partnership) and BOOT (build, own, operate and transfer). Compensation to those households that have been affected by the airport’s construction is yet to be sorted out, although it is said to be in its final stage. And then there is the task of resettling those squatters who inhabit the construction area.

Twenty-five years is a lot of time to take for planning, and it is not good to keep the airport’s construction lingering under one pretext or the other. Nijgadh has shown to be the most suitable place for a full-fledged international airport, and there is no point in delaying it any further as it will invite more problems and cost over-runs. The airport to occupy 8,000 hectares of land is to be developed in three phases as an international hub – an air transit for 22 neighbouring countries - capable of handling 15 million air passengers per year. This will make Nijgadh International Airport one of the largest in south Asia. Imagine what this entails for the future of the Nepali economy .  At the recent investment summit in Kathmandu, a few countries had shown interest in constructing the airport, which will cost about half a billion dollars in the first phase, and a total of US$ 6.5 billion when it is fully completed. But before any firm can come and start work, Nepal must do the basic work of clearing the site and deciding on the construction modality.

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Government offices are known for their lethargic pace of work, with the employees having no fear of being taken to task for it. Absenteeism without leave is routine, which delays work in government offices. The secure job that the government employees enjoy perhaps explains their often unruly behaviour. During a surprise monitoring and inspection carried out by the National Vigilance Centre (NVC) from November 17 to 22, as many as 150 employees were found absent from various government offices and municipalities while 108 had not donned the prescribed uniform during office hours. The number would be many times more if the NVC were able to carry out such monitoring in all the offices.

It is the duty of every government office to keep tab of its employees during office hours and see to it that they do not go astray. The civil servants are also bound by the regulations to wear the prescribed uniform so that they can be identified by the service-seekers, and they receive money annually from the government to buy new uniform. The indiscipline seen in the government offices is largely an offshoot of the union politics that influences the overall environment there. It would be good to bring its sway under control sooner than later.