Abandoned airportsIn their obsession with electoral politics, politicians have been pushing for unviable infrastructure projects.
Nepali politicians often announce development projects like tricksters pulling rabbits out of their hats. The projects that appear out of nowhere end up like the trickster’s rabbit—useless. Roads lead nowhere, bridges crumble before the inauguration, and stadiums never get completed. And it’s not just massive projects like Bhairahawa and Pokhara airports that are fast turning into white elephants. Every district in the country seems to have an airport, or at least has been promised one. Not one to be left behind, Tourism Minister Sudan Kirati just last week ordered the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) to conduct a preliminary study to build one in Dharan. Let alone build an airport in a city just 40 km away from Biratnagar airport, and connected by a six-lane top-notch highway at that, the feasibility study itself will be a flagrant waste of taxpayer money.
Several other airports have been proposed or built in several other districts—Kalikot, Lamjung, Gulmi, Ilam, Arghakhanchi, Udayapur, Pyuthan, Palpa and Solukhumbu. CAAN officials say the airport projects have been pushed by one or another influential political leader to please their constituencies. The situation is so bad that the aircraft-to-airport ratio in the country is 1:1. Of the 55 domestic airports, 32 are in operation, seven of which make an operating profit. Amid such a dire situation, adding yet another airport is a fool’s bargain.
Again consider the proposal to build an airport in Dharan. The city is already self-sufficient with decent medical and education services. What it desperately needs at the moment are clean drinking water and public transport facilities. There is no justification for building a "white elephant" in the city except to stoke the egos of a few elites. And doing so is a federal minister. From pushing for unnecessary airports to taking a procession of television cameras on his airport raids, Kirati seems to be banking on the airfields to boost his popularity. Earlier this year, Kirati had also ordered a study to establish a university to study the Hindu religion, a waste of resources considering how the existing universities in the country are running at low capacity.
In their obsession with electoral politics, politicians have been pushing for unviable infrastructure projects, making development an end goal rather than a means to human wellbeing. Apart from seeking self-aggrandisement, the leaders also seem to suffer from a lack of imagination when imposing their obsessions on the people. Spending millions of rupees, sometimes even billions, on unnecessary airports only to see them turn into expensive pastures is symptomatic of the same.
In former times, having more airports was perhaps a necessity for a mountainous country with few motorable roads. Now cheaper road transport is easily available in most places. For instance, while it costs Rs10,000 to fly from Kathmandu to Bajhang, comfortable road transport can take you there for around Rs3,000. The poor folks of Sudurpaschim have naturally opted for the less expensive option. Just like the much-maligned view towers, these needless airports capture the tendency of our politicians across all three tiers of government to pander to the worst instincts of their constituents.e