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Nijgadh airport construction: Experts object undue haste in cutting down trees

KATHMANDU – Experts and concerned stakeholders have raised objection to the haste over cutting down the trees without preparing the Detail Project Report (DPR).

At a time when the government has been making preparations to chop 70,000 trees in the first phase for the construction of the airport, experts and stakeholders have been reiterating that there should be a guarantee of investment for airport construction and DPR should be prepared prior to that. In a discussion on the proposed Nijgadh Airport held at Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalists (NEFEJ) in Kathmandu on Friday, the stakeholders suggested that the airport construction site should be pushed towards the southern side so as to minimize the impact on environment and ecology. An estimated 2,400,000 trees should be felled in the first and second phases.

Natural Resources Expert Suraj Shrestha DPR said the government has breached the law requiring to preparing the DPR before conducting a study on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). On top of that the government has been preparing to cut down the trees without preparing the DPR, he objected.

He further said the construction of airport near Parsa National Park will have a serious impact on the environment as Province 2 has minimum natural resources. Noting that around 8000 hectares of forest—corridor to wildlife such as elephants and tigers—should be cleared, Shrestha said, “Forest, environment, wildlife and biodiversity can’t be restored to their original stage. So it is necessary pay attention to that.”

Former Secretary Krishna Gyawali underlined the need to be mindful about the EIA and statement of Tourism Minister Rabindra Adhikari. He said sustainable development and ecology are intertwined and it is necessary to take ahead the project with maximum possible impact on the environment. He stressed on the need to issue a white-paper before kick-starting the megaproject.

A former joint-secretary at the Ministry of Environment, drew the attention towards the possible problems in the future as there is no assurance whether the new plants will be planted once the trees were cut down—though it is mandatory.  According to EIA, around 61.2 million new saplings should be planted to compensate for felling 2.4 million trees—at a rate of 25 saplings for a single tree. It requires 38294 hectares of land for planting the trees.

Former Vice Chairman of National Planning Commission and former Governor Dipendra Bahadur Chhetri said the government should reply why the EIA was prepared without preparing the DPR of the project.

A former pilot, Prachanda Jang Shah, who has 42 years of flying experience, said the airport should be constructed as the location is very important in many respects. The airport should be constructed in compliance with international standards, he said.

Lawmaker Kirshna Prasad Dahal said the development work should be given impetus by minimizing the ecological damage. He said the necessary procedure should be completed as there is no alternative to the proposed Nijgadh Airport. National Planning Commission member Ram Kumar Phuyal underscored the need for building the airport for economic, and social transformation.

Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) Director Pradeep Adhikari claimed that airport construction site can’t be changed as it is crucial to construct an international airport in the country. He acknowledged that there are some mistakes in the EIA and they will be rectified.

NEFEJ Chairman Arjun Dhakal underscored the need to adopt scientific, systematic and sustainable approach while undertaking the project. He voiced his reservations over the haste in cutting down the tree without preparing the DPR and questioned why the EIA was prepared if it was not to be implemented.

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Nepal Forum of Environmental journalists (NEFEJ) is a leader among non-governmental organizations working to raise public awareness on the environment, sustainable development, and other social issues.
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