Background of Construction of Nijgadh International Airport
Currently the only international airport operated in Nepal is Tribhuwan International Airport. Studies have found on an average of 3.8 million passengers have been taking services from TIA and increasing each year. Since, the area covered by the airport is already small and congested. The country is in urgent need of second International Airport. Thus, it is crucial to build an alternative airport to relive the congestion that is threatening TIA for smooth operation.
The Government of Nepal has proposed to construct an alternative airport at Nijgadh, Bara. Nijgadh forest has a coverage of 800 km green belt that extends Nijgadh in Nepal to Uttarakhand in India. The area is a continuous green corridor for wildlife including Jim Corbett National Park, Philibit Tiger Reserve, Shukalphanta National Park, Banke National Park, Bardiya National Park, Valmiki National Park, Chitwan National Park and Parsa National Park. Due to the project, the animals and wildlife habitat will be impacted as soon as the forest is axed down. The habitat degradation due to the project may lead to conflict between wildlife and people.
The government recently announced it’s annual budget policy where the government mentions to begin the construction of Nijgadh International airport as soon as possible. The announcement has triggered a fresh debate as it is going to be a huge loss to the Nepal’s forest cover.
The Environmental Impact
As per Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report, 2.4 million trees will have to be felled down to construct the airport. The Airport is proposed to be build in three phases.
EIA report has been questioned for it’s credibility by environmentalists as the report fails to meet the standards. The maintained report is also found out being copy-pasted from some of the hydro power projects.
Till date, 17000 hectares of forest has already been handed over to the Nepal Government for construction process. It would further clear 8000 hectares of the pristine forest if the airport is to be built.
The forest is mostly dominated by Sal trees (Shorea robusta) and on the either side of the river banks is Sissoo trees (Dalbergia sissoo). The forest is home to huge number of species of mammals, reptiles, birds and amphibians. The clearing of the forest will affect the entire eco-system and affect the livelihood of the locals.
There are two major rivers flowing around the Nijgadh forest. Pasaha and Lal Bakaiya are crucial for fisheries and farmlands. Nepal is also classified as one of the top 5 countries which will be adversely affected by natural disaster. The natural resources and habitat needs to be safeguard rather fiercely let them fall down.
The Social Environment Impact
The project also includes destruction of households living there. According to the EIA report, there are 7,487 people living in 1,492 households. They are the migrant population who do not possess land ownership certificates. Families are involved in farming and cultivating about 530 hectares land. Households there are divided within Tangiya Basti, Matiyani and Kathghat. They are people from different tribes where there settlement is later and earlier.
Chandra Kishore Jha, a commentator who writes on environmental and socio-political issues says, ” In the first phase, the project will be developed on 2,500 hectares of the total proposed area. For this, 769,691 trees will have to be cut down. This environmental degradation of the area has drawn criticisms from various quarters.
Jha adds that the government should look at alternatives in order to minimize harm to the environment and to protect biodiversity.
The Pro and anti debate
The construction of Nijgadh International Airport has created debate over Pro- development and Anti- Development. Environmentalists states that this aviation propaganda will have devastating effect on the environment. Activists are protesting the plan and are seeking the government to look for alternatives which will have minimal impact to the environment.
However on the other half, government officials accuse the environmentalists of trying to block the airport. The government has planned to plant the possible areas in the ratio of 25:1 felled trees. Environmentalists has to say that the trees planted will not be the same what has fell down.
A member of Public Interest Litigation, Sanjay Adhikari, said “The government lacks an understanding of the difference between ‘greenery’ and ‘jungle.’ The plantation of trees might bring out greenery but not the life of the jungle. The law states that even if there is a source of gold or diamonds which affects biodiversity, the source should be protected. Nijgadh international airport will have a huge impact on Nepal’s biodiversity.”
A wildlife conservationist Manoj Gautam said, “Let’s suppose, even if the government is successful in planting trees at the ratio of 25:1, these trees will not be as valuable as the forest is now. Once the animals, birds and resources are gone, they are gone forever.” Gautam added “As a wildlife conservationist, I believe that the Nijgadh project is an absolute ecological crime. It will increase the risk of natural disasters such as floods, endanger important heritage sites, the list goes on. The government’s silence on these matters makes me very suspicious.”
The Pro Sentiment
While an officer at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Budhi Sagar Lamichhane supports the project by saying “Nijgadh is very suitable for an airport in every aspect. It will have two parallel runways, the traffic will be manageable, and we can welcome European planes too. The airport is necessary for the future generation. Laws have been created for the development of the country, so laws that prohibit us from development should be disregarded.”
The pro and anti Nijgadh Airport debate has displayed a picture of disparity between people who are in support of country’s development and who are against it. Environmentalists claim their displeasure is not with the development but the destruction welcoming by the development. Despite government assures that more trees will be planted than felled, environmentalists are not convinced. Environmental activist Chanda Rana expressed a sentiment, saying “Development is necessary. In fact, Nepal needs an International Airport as soon as possible. But not at the cost of 2.4 million trees.”
An Environmental Conservation Organization named People’s Alliance for Nature Nepal shares their view towards the project as below:
Binaas binako bikaas is possible. Let's be more aware of the development projects going on in our country. And let's make our voices be heard.[ Animation by @binismaharjan and Sumedh Bajracharya ]#nijgadh #forest #nijgadhairport #environment #stayinformed #treesplease #greeneconomyplease
Posted by People's Alliance for Nature Nepal on Sunday, May 24, 2020