EDITORIAL: Don’t miss deadline

The govt needs to hold intensive talks with India to obtain other air routes to make GBIA and PRIA commercially viable

Were it not for the 2015 massive earthquake and subsequent border blockade for more than six months, the much-touted Gautam Buddha International Airport (GBIA) in Bhairahawa would have come into commercial operation by the end of 2017.

It was delayed by three more years due to these reasons. To add insult to injury, the work on the multi-billion rupee project has been pushed further due to the coronavirus pandemic, and there is no clear sign when it will come under control.

As per the revised plan, the GBIA should have been completed by December end 2020, and commercial flights from there should have started by June next year. Started in 2014 under the grant and loan assistance of the Asian Development Bank, the deadline to finish the entire works of the GBIA has so far been extended for the third time till December.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further delayed the works of the airport though 93 per cent of the work has already been completed. The remaining works are associated mainly with installing navigation radar, electric equipment and baggage handling system. Technicians from China, Thailand and the USA have not been able to reach the site as the concerned countries have yet to give approval for their departure.

Even if the construction work of the airport is completed by the new deadline, there is no guarantee of regular flights from the GBIA as planned as India has yet to officially approve other air routes — from east to west — to the GBIA and Pokhara Regional International Airport (PRIA), apart from the existing Simara air route although an agreement to this effect was reached six years ago. The government needs to hold intensive talks with India to obtain other air routes to make GBIA and PRIA commercially viable. Beside, the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA) has yet to decide how the GBIA will be managed — either by the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) or an international firm. Roughly it might take at least six months to make preparations for the regular operation of the airport, the gateway to Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha, if everything goes according to plan.

While inspecting the GBIA, Minister of MoCTCA Yogesh Bhattarai said the other day that the European Union (EU) has hinted at the possibility of lifting the ban on Nepali airlines into its skies as the Nepal government had tabled a bill to split CAAN Act-1996 into a service provider and an air accident investigation body. EU’s major concern is that CAAN has been acting both as a service provider as well as an air accident investigation body, posing a conflict of interest.

Once the parliament makes amendments to the CAAN Act, a team from the EU will visit Nepal to advance the process of eventually removing Nepal from the EU ‘air safety list’. It is, therefore, necessary for the parliament to amend the Act in the best interest of the country’s civil aviation sector. Once Nepal is removed from the EU’s air safety list, Nepali airlines can directly operate flights to Europe from where a large number of tourists visit Nepal annually for trekking and mountaineering.

Manage toilets

It surprises no one that girls in rural schools miss three days of classes every month when they have their period. This is so because many can’t afford pads, and even if they do, schools lack girl-friendly toilets should they need to change them. The government has been distributing pads for free to schools, in the rural areas, but they are not proving very effective for want of separate toilets for girls with water facilities.

The situation is made all the worse in far-west and mid-west Nepal by the Chhaupadi system, which forces menstruating girls to live in a shed, away from their home.

There are many reasons why girls drop out of school upon reaching puberty, and one of them is the lack of not only girl-friendly toilets but a bathroom altogether. Due to lack of toilets, they are forced to relieve themselves in the nearby jungles. Thus, if the government wants to see the retainment of girls in schools right up to high school, it might start paying serious attention to not only building classrooms but also good toilets. This also calls for investing in water supply systems in the rural areas. There are rich dividends to be reaped by investing in drinking water and sanitation.