Environmentalists decry Nijgadh airport project at cost of wildlife, forestAmid the hue and cry over the government plan to massively chop down trees for the proposed Nijgadh International Airport, environmentalists and development practitioners have expressed serious concerns about the environmental degradation the project is likely to invite.
Amid the hue and cry over the government plan to massively chop down trees for the proposed Nijgadh International Airport, environmentalists and development practitioners have expressed serious concerns about the environmental degradation the project is likely to invite.
They have cautioned the government to dwell upon the impacts the national pride project will bring to environment, bio-diversity, local communities and wildlife.
The proposed site is adjacent to the Parsa Wildlife National Park, corridor to big wildlife like tigers and elephants, and habitat of rich bio-diversity. The government’s move to strip the forest even without having the Detailed Project Report (DPR) prepared has drawn flak from various stakeholders.
Sprawling over an area of 8045.79 hectares, the proposed airport would require felling of 2.4 million trees. As per the Environment and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) report, nearly 770,000 trees will be chopped down during the first phase.
Located 175 km south of Kathmandu, the planned construction site lies amid dense forests with nearly 90 percent of the project area covered by Shorea robusta trees, also known as sal or sakhua. The market value of the lumber stands at over Rs65 billion.
Natural resources expert Suraj Shrestha pointed out that the government has violated the standard practice of completing the DPR before going for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study.
“The government had approved the EIA even before completing the DPR which is already contradictory to the practice. Now, the government is in hurry to cut down trees without having DPR,” said Shrestha at a programme organised by Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalists (NEFEJ) in Kathmandu on Friday.
Environmentalists and development practitioners also raised doubts over the government intention of felling trees before conducting the DPR. Recently, the Ministry of Forest and Environment and the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation agreed to cut down trees.
Former lawmaker Ram Kumar Sharma questioned the government’s intent of constructing airport by stripping vast swathes of forest cover that is home to a myriad of wildlife species.
“Now there are enough doubts over the construction of airport at the current site. We should be questioning the government’s intention whether they want to construct the airport or they want to cut down trees,” said Sharma, urging the government to shift the airport site by a few kilometres east to reduce various consequences of the project.
The government has assured planting 25 saplings for every single tree felled for the project. With this rate of plantation, the government would be planting 62 million new saplings. However, environmentalist argue that newly planted man-made forest can never be as rich as the natural ecosystem.
“They may plant millions of trees but that can never replace the rich biodiversity of naturally grown forest. Also, the EIA report has only enlisted few species of birds and animals which raises suspicion about the purpose of the project,” said botanist Tirtha Bahadur Shrestha.
According to the ex-pilot Prachanda Jung Shah, the project site was appropriate for construction of the international airport because of its location for its closeness to large population base, financial centre, extensive touristic and cultural centres like Kathmandu Valley, which will be connected with the Kathmandu-Tarai Expressway.
Pradip Adhikari, director at the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), said that there was no option of shifting the Nijgadh airport elsewhere.
“The location was perfect for many factors. There might be some errors in the EIA report which can be corrected. Government cannot ignore existing standards and international obligations for the construction of the airport,” added Adhikari.
Concerned stakeholders also pressed for making public all the project related documents to put an end to uncertainty revolving around the megaproject. “No one is against the construction of the airport, but we urge the government to consider minimising the irreplaceable damage likely to occur in future,” said Arjun Dhakal, president of NEFEJ.