Locals affected by Biratnagar Airport expansion project protestThey warn of stern protest if government fails to address their demands of either providing due compensation or lifting provision halting their land registration process.
Residents of Biratnagar who were stopped from trading their land following the government's decision to acquire them for the upgradation of Biratnagar Airport organised a protest in front of the Morang District Administration Office and the Office of the Chief Minister on Monday.
The Province 1 government has halted the land registration of 126 bighas of land around the airport area owned by 350 families citing upgradation of the domestic airport.
A cabinet meeting on November 12, 2020 had granted permission to the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal to acquire 126 bighas of land for the airport expansion project. The taking over of the land has been estimated to cost Rs5 billion.
The facelift of the airport in south-eastern Nepal is expected to cost around Rs15 billion and see the addition of a new terminal and a runway nearly double the length of the existing one to upgrade the airport into an international facility.
According to chief of Biratnagar airport Utsav Kharel, the 1,500-metre runway will be lengthened to 2,500 metres, enabling it to handle narrow-body jets like the Airbus A320 and the Boeing 737.
The government, after halting the registration process, had called the land owners to claim compensation for the land with three-generational details in March-April, 2021.
However, no budget has been allotted by the government under land compensation for the owners in the past two years.
On Monday, the protesters met with Chief Minister Rajendra Rai and Chief District Officer Kashi Nath Dahal and submitted a memorandum demanding compensation within a week or to lift the provision halting the land registration process. The locals have warned of further protest if their demands are not met.
“Since the government has halted the registration process of our lands for the past two years, we could not trade them for money with any financial institutions when we were in dire need of money,” said Bedraj Poudel, chairman of the Airport Struggle Committee. “We are only demanding that the authorities compensate us or resume the land registration process of our lands.”
Poudel said that the locals affected by the government decision and inaction have not been able to sell or divide the property among their family.
Sabina Magar, one of those affected by the government decision, said that she is in a dilemma on whether to fix the leaking roof of her home or not as she fears she could be evicted any time.
“The corrugated zinc sheets in my roof have been leaking and with the onset of monsoon, it’s difficult to stay inside the home,” said Magar, “I cannot afford to spend money on new zinc sheets as I could be evicted from my home any day now.”
Meanwhile, Poudel said that the affected locals were forced to take to the streets as the government failed to allot a budget for land compensation even after two years of presenting their three-generational details.
“We had presented our three-generational details to the government to claim compensation for our land,” said Poudel. “But since the government neither allocated a budget nor resumed the registration process of our lands, we have been forced to protest.”