Sangam Prasain, The Kathmandu Post, 7 May 2018
At least 40 foreign investors have expressed interest to build the proposed modern international airport in Nijgadh, Bara, indicating that a stable government seems to have had an impact on the country’s business climate, Tourism Minister Rabindra Adhikari said.
“The investors’ interest seems to be based primarily on the hope that Nepal is now strong and stable. Now, we cannot delay the project construction,” Minister Adhikari told the Post. “We are almost clear on the airport modality. The government won’t inject fund in developing the airport. We will take on board the private investors.”
The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (Caan) has estimated the airport will cost $1.21 billion, excluding the proposed airport city. Caan said the airport would be able to handle 20 million passengers annually in the first phase.
The SIA scheme envisions building a modern airport in Nijgadh, 175 km from Kathmandu in the southern plains, as an alternative to congestion and winter fog at the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA)—the country’s sole aerial gateway. The airport will spread over 80 square kilometres, which will make it the biggest in South Asia in terms of area.
Minister Adhikari said the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report of the project is expected to be approved by the Environment Ministry within a week. After that the Nepal Army will be authorised to cut down the trees.
In September 2017, the government had formally assigned the Nepal Army to build access and perimeter roads and clear trees at the proposed construction site in Nijgadh.
As per the report, more than 2.4 million trees, including nearly 600,000 big trees, will have to be felled to build the much talked about modern international airport. The government has a binding rule that the project’s executing agency should plant 25 saplings for every tree cut.
The government had announced inviting tenders for the construction of the airport by this fiscal year while presenting the budget statement for fiscal 2017-18 to Parliament. However, the modality of the project has been changing along with changes in government, causing delays. Successive administrations have put forward opposing plans that the airport should be developed through private or public financing.
“Still, we have not come to a conclusion regarding the airport’s development modality. But we are almost certain to adopt build-own-operate-transfer (Boot) or engineering, procurement, construction and finance (EPCF) among the number of modality proposed,” said Adhikari. “We have planned to invite tenders for the construction of the airport in the next fiscal year beginning mid-July. The modality will also be finalised by then.”
Hordes of foreign investors have expressed interest to develop the project, but the government is reluctant to cash in on the opportunity.
London-based company WGP Global, in conjunction with its project partner Uniel Holdings, has expressed an interest to lead a team to design, construct, finance and manage the project.
Similarly, the Malaysian government had proposed implementing a fully-financed construction of the airport under a ‘design, finance, build, operate and transfer’ (DFBOT) model through a government-to-government deal.
Earlier, Landmark Worldwide Company (LMW) of Korea had proposed to develop the project. The government had awarded a detailed feasibility study (DFS) contract to the company in March 2010. LMW’s report has proposed constructing the airport under the ‘build-own-operate-transfer’ (Boot) model.
In July 2015, a four-member delegation from the Airport Authority of India (AAI) inspected the planned SIA site in Nijgadh. The visiting delegation had informed Nepali government officials that they were ready to invest in the project, either through the private sector or government funding or both, as per the wish of the Nepal government. “As the SIA at the southern border point would be more accessible for a large population of Bihar, India is more concerned about it,” the delegation had said at the time.