The Kathmandu Post, 9 Sep 2017
The government has formally assigned the Nepal Army (NA) to build access and perimeter roads and clear trees at the proposed construction site of Nijgadh International Airport in Bara, 175 km south of Kathmandu.
Director General Sanjiv Gautam of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (Caan) and Major General Yogendra Bahadur Khand of the NA Engineering Division signed a memorandum of understanding on behalf of their respective organizations on Monday. As per the agreement, the NA will complete the task within two years.
The government has allocated a budget of Rs1.5 billion for the project for this fiscal year. “The budget will be sent to NA as soon as it is approved,” said Gautam. He added that trees at the site where the airport’s runway and taxiway will be built would be felled.
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.
The project envisions building a large-scale modern airport in Nijgadh in Bara district in the southern plains. The proposed facility in Nijgadh will be the biggest in South Asia in terms of area once it is completed.
The government has also completed public hearings on August 31 with locals and stakeholders concerned about the impact of the project. The project is in the final phase of preparing an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report. Caan has hired a consultant to carry out an environmental and social impact assessment of the area where the airport is being built. Nearly 90 percent of the proposed construction site is covered by Shorea robusta trees, also known as Sal or Sakhua.
The preliminary EIA report shows that more than 2.4 million small and large trees will have to be cut down to build the modern international airport. The market value of the lumber stands at over Rs65 billion, according to sources privy to the matter. The money from the sale of trees will pay for half of the construction cost, officials said.
The planned construction site lies amid dense forest and will be spread over 8,000 hectares. However, in the first phase, the airport will have only one runway and occupy 1,000 to 2,000 hectares. The infrastructure will be expanded gradually based on need, the report said.
On February 10, the Forest Ministry allowed the Tourism Ministry to conduct an EIA on the condition that the project’s executing agency plant 25 saplings for every tree that is cut down. The Forest Ministry has also asked the Tourism Ministry to prepare an economic valuation of the impact of the airport construction project on biodiversity. Caan has estimated that the proposed second international airport in Nijgadh can be constructed at a cost of Rs121 billion, excluding the proposed airport city.
A preliminary internal financial assessment conducted by Caan has proposed building a 4,000-metre runway. Likewise, Caan has proposed building a 100,000-square metre international passenger terminal building. It said the airport would be able to handle 20 million passengers annually in the first phase.