The Tourism and Civil Aviation Ministry is seeking a green signal from the Forest Ministry to clear the airport area by cutting down the trees in the Nijgadh forest. Since the Tourism and Civil Aviation Ministry started the process, protests have been witnessed in social networks as well as in the local media outlets. The environmentalists have also become active protesting the government decision to chop-down the century old trees. The protesters have argued that why is it needed to cut-down 14 hundred thousand age-old trees, which will further destroy the already deteriorated Chure Hill region and converting the tarai area into a desert as the Nijgadh forest and Chure Hill is the source of water for the tarai people.
Also, they have questioned on the occupying of 8045 hectares of forest area, which is too large for constructing an airport.
Meanwhile, the civil aviation experts and government officials claim that it doesn’t mean that the airport is going to be constructed in the entire land. The Nijgadh international airport will be constructed only in 2,500 hectares of land and the rest of the area will remain as the airspace for the airport. The Minister for Civil Aviation has made clear that all the trees in the area will not be chopped off. A maximum of 2 hundred 4 thousand trees are going to be cut down and new tree plantation project will be launched on the basis of 1:25 trees along with the chopping down of the trees.
The Minister has explained that the airport construction works will be conducted in a transparent manner and maximum attention will be given on minimizing negative environmental impacts.
Sure, the only international airport in the country, the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) has become very, very congested as aircraft have to stay on hold in the air for hours waiting for their turn to land at the TIA. TIA runway itself has become very hazardous and it needs to overhauled as soon as possible. As we don’t have any alternate airport, the single runway is being operated by instant pothole repairing mechanism. Always, there is one team on standby to repair potholes every time there is a landing of big aircraft. The entire runway has to be reconstructed as per the international standards. Even though, TIA cannot maintain the increasing pressure of air service after five years. Therefore, if we want to develop Nepal as a tourist hub, we need an international airport equipped with all necessary facilities needed for a modern airport, like in other countries.
Experts, who were involved in the construction of an alternative international airport, had identified Nijgadh as the best place to construct an international airport in 1995.
Environmentalists are also convinced that there will be less environmental impact if the airport in Nijgadh is constructed. Nijgadh is not the pocket area of wildlife as well. They argue that as Sauraha was the pocket area of wildlife and thus, it has been preserved, but Nijgadh forest has not been identified as the forest pocket area for any particular wildlife, they argue.
Some environmentalists have even argued for constructing the proposed airport some miles below the present site to save the forest. However, the civil aviation authorities and also retired officials who had worked for construction of the alternate airport claim that in that case, the aircraft will be forced to use Indian airspace while landing and taking off. And even if it is shifted to the northern side, due to the hills, it is not possible for big aircraft to land. Therefore, there is no chance of shifting the location from the present site, they argue.
In conclusion, we need an international airport close to the capital, within one hour’s drive from here. The construction of a fast track road to Nijgadh has already started. Therefore, we don’t have any alternative except from constructing an airport in Nijgadh to address a long-term demand of an international standard airport besides TIA.
We are also seriously concerned about the environmental impact, but when the construction is done with much care, there should be no fear. What we wish to suggest is that a strong mechanism should be developed to minimize environmental impacts. Likewise, a strong mechanism has to be developed for re-plantation of trees. As Chure hills have been destroyed, the government should identify the Chure location for re-plantation of trees. Also, the mechanism should be developed by giving certain years and out of 25 trees, at least five trees should be compulsorily grown. Contractors have to be assigned for this project and they should be responsible for growing a minimum of five trees out of the 25 trees in the given period of five or ten years.