Explained | Why are the top leaders of the ruling coalition defending the Nijgadh Airport project?

The top leaders of the ruling coalition–Sher Bahadur Deuba, Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal–look committed to the Nijgadh Airport project, whatever the supreme court verdict. Why are they so bent?

NL Today

  • Read Time 3 min.

Kathmandu: On July 2, the top leaders of the ruling coalition made a visit to the proposed Nijgadh International Airport site and pledged that the project will be completed on time. 

While addressing a program at Nijgadh, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba pledged to construct the international airport in Nijgadh. “We are holding a discussion with experts about airport construction. We shall build the airport at any cost,” Deuba said.

In the program, CPN-Unified Socialist Chairman Madhav Kumar Nepal said that the Supreme Court verdict on the Nijgadh International Airport has not closed the door for airport construction. 

Janata Samjbadi Party-Nepal’s Chairman Upendra Yadav said that the international airport should be constructed by preserving old settlements in the place. “We will preserve old settlements and construct the airport,” Yadav said.

Similarly, CPN-Maoist Center Chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal said, “Fast track was constructed taking the Nijgadh International Airport into consideration. Thus, airport construction is a necessity.” 

These statements from the top leaders openly disregard the Supreme Court verdict.

Last month, the Supreme Court ordered the cancellation of every activity conducted to construct the international airport in Nijgadh of Bara. Earlier, it was perceived that the court ordered the government to cancel the construction of the airport there. However, the court released the full text this week, which states the government still could go ahead with the project if it is ready to start the process anew. 

The verdict has kept some options open to resuming the project. The verdict has urged the government to reconduct the environmental impact assessment and reconsider the proposed location so as to minimize the adverse impacts on the environment and ecology.

None of the top leaders have pledged to follow the verdict of the Supreme Court. 

Without pledging that they would first fulfill the criteria as directed by the apex court, the top leaders vowed to complete the project at any cost. They did not mention that they would abide by the SC’s verdict and redo the EIA and reconsider the area so as to minimize the environmental impact. 

Why are the political leaders so bent on constructing the airport, without stating a word of commitment to abide by the court verdict? Why are they so impatient? Nepal Live Today has unearthed some possible reasons. 

1. Nexus with real estate agents

Collusion between political leaders and well-off real estate agents is no secret in Nepal as many such cases have emerged in the past. Such agents would always want to hike land prices to garner more and more profit. An international airport under construction would definitely be a good money-maker for real estate agents. Political leadersn have their eyes on the commission money from the real estate agents as they are facing the next round of elections. 

2. Commission in timber

The environmental and social impact assessment report submitted to the Tourism Ministry in February 2017 states that more than 2.4 million trees need to be cut down from the forest area of over 8,000 hectare to build the airport. Nijgadh forest trees are worth an estimated $500 million in the timber market. What the Nijgadh International Airport agenda amounts to could be the largest organized ecological crime scheme of our times in Nepal, according to the Save Nijgadh campaigners. Such a hefty amount can lure Nepali political leaders without any doubt (given many past cases of commission and bargaining in projects). During the elections, this becomes more stark. 

3. To counter KP Oli as a pro-development leader

KP Oli has repeatedly claimed to be a pro-development leader and boasted about various projects he planned or completed during his tenure. So, one of the reasons for the restlessness of the ruling coalition leaders is that they also want to project themselves as development leaders. They want to establish themselves as pro-development leaders who are keen to complete the projects such as Nijgadh airport, especially when the election is at the doorstep. 

4. Wooing Madhav Nepal

Madhav Nepal will probably file his candidacy from Rautahat, which lies around 68 kilometers from Nijgadh. So, the top leaders might have visited the project and pledged to complete it soon in a bid to garner votes for Madhav Nepal in the upcoming elections. As things stand, political leaders showcase the dream projects to garner votes whenever the elections approach.