Government moves ahead with Nijgadh airport projectInvestment Board of Nepal says other processes should not be stopped despite interim orders from the apex court not to cut trees.
Nepal’s troubled $3.45 billion airport project in Nijgadh, Bara is moving ahead despite interim orders issued by the country’s apex court to stop felling trees at the construction site.
On Friday, the Investment Board of Nepal formally asked Zurich Airport International AG, Switzerland to submit its business proposal for the development of the airport project in the country’s southern Tarai plain.
In September last year, the government had shortlisted the Swiss firm as the sole company to work in a public-private partnership model for the construction of the country’s fourth international airport.
Under the public-private-partnership modality, the Swiss company will fully fund the project. The cost for the first phase of the project has been estimated at $1.2 billion.
The airport, about 175km from the Capital, is expected to serve as an alternative to congestion and winter fog at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport, the country’s sole aerial gateway.
The board, which is a high-level government body to facilitate investors in investing in the potential sectors in Nepal, said it issued a notice on Friday asking the Swiss company to download the request for proposal documents from the board’s website and submit a bid. The board has given the company 45 days, or a March 1 deadline to submit its bid.
A pre-bid conference is scheduled on February 16 to clear any confusion during the proposal drafting process.
On December 6, a single bench of Supreme Court Justice Tanka Bahadur Moktan issued a stay order asking the government to put the construction on hold. Again on December 22, a double bench of Chief Justice Cholendra Shamsher Rana and Justice Kumar Regmi continued its interim order issued on December 6.
Maha Prasad Adhikari, chief executive officer at the Investment Board of Nepal, told the Post that they held multiple rounds of meetings with the Tourism Ministry before issuing the bid notice.
“We are clear that the apex court has directed the government to immediately stop felling trees at the construction site. But this doesn’t mean that all work should be stopped,” he said. “The court has ordered the government authority not to allow unauthorised felling of trees.”
Adhikari said that the Swiss company will fully fund the project and there is no provision of viability gap funding by the government if the project falls short of finances.
The project modality is ‘build, operate and transfer’ under the public-private-partnership arrangement and in the case of a big infrastructure project like this, it is common for the project operation to be several decades.
“The Swiss firm will propose in its document on how long it will operate the project. This will be finalised during the signing of the project development agreement,” said Adhikari.
The government had decided to develop Nijgadh International Airport, one of the most ambitious projects, in 1995. The timeline for the new airport was pushed back on multiple occasions amid concerns about financing and legal issues over its environmental impact.
According to an environmental and social impact assessment carried out by the Tourism Ministry in February 2017, more than 2.4 million small and large trees will have to be felled to build the international airport in three phases.
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.
But the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, the project executing agency, said they have reviewed the earlier plan to reduce the environmental impact.
“As per our internal review, the project will use 1,900 hectares in the first phase. It will require cutting down 500,000 trees [135,000 big trees] now,” said Rajan Pokhrel, director general at the civil aviation body.
He said that the airport construction site has been reviewed [in the southern side of Nijgadh jungle] as the trees are sparse in the area and the land is also being encroached rapidly.
The drawing and design of the project after the internal review has been sent to the Ministry of Forests and Environment through the Tourism Ministry, he said.
The forest ministry will conduct a review and after assessing the number of trees that are required to cut down as per our assessment, it will table the proposal at the Cabinet seeking approval to cut trees, said Pokhrel.
“We have also identified sites for the compensatory tree planting in Bara,” he said.
The Nijgadh international airport is planned to be the largest in South Asia in terms of area, covering 8,045.79 hectares when completed. The airport will be developed in three phases. The first phase of work is expected to take 10 years to complete.
Post completion, the airport will be able to handle 15 million passengers annually and accommodate Airbus A380 super jumbo. By the end of the third phase, the facility will have a parallel runway enabling it to handle 60 million passengers annually. A 76-km Kathmandu-Tarai expressway will link the Capital with Nijgadh.