Kathmandu, May 6 (IANS) Turning down an Indian offer to build Nepal’s second international airport outside capital Kathmandu, the government has decided to mobilise resources on its own for the long pending project slated to come up in the south-central Nijgadh town.
A meeting of the cabinet, presided over by Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, on Thursday decided to initiate the process of land acquisition for the project which is estimated to cost $1.20 billion in the first phase.
Thursday’s decision by the Oli government — in the immediate aftermath of a U-turn by its Maoist ally from their threatened withdrawal of support and forming a national unity government — is seen here as Kathmandu cocking a snook at New Delhi for perceived meddling in Nepal’s internal affairs.
The threatened withdrawal of support by the Maoists is believed here to have been engineered at New Delhi’s instance — and Oli, who is perceived as cold towards Indian overtures, feels the Nijgadh decision will rightly convey that all is not well between the two close neighbours.
The abortive coup against Oli earlier this week involved Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda leading a new government supported by the main opposition — and the largest group in parliament — Nepali Congress along with Madhes-based parties.
However, the wily Prachanda on Thursday backtracked from plan thus pouring water on the designs of new NC president Sher Bahadur Deuba to yet again play a decisive role in Nepali politics.
As the Oli government survived the day, a cabinet meeting in the evening decided to construct the country’s second international airport at Nijgadh town of Bara district, with Nepal mobilising on its own the resources required for the ambitious project.
The Nijgadh international airport will be designed to handle 15 million passengers annually and even accommodate the super-jumbo Airbus A380 after the first phase of construction. According to a feasibility study, prepared in April 2011, the airport would cover 3,000 hectares of land: 2,000 hectares for the airport itself and the remaining 1,000 hectares for an airport city.
Nijgadh is about 130 km south of Kathmandu from where the travelling time by road is approximately 3 hrs 22 mins.
India has shown interest in construction of the multi-billion-dollar project due to its strategic importance and proximity to the Nepal-India border.
Last June, during the International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj first disclosed the Indian interest in constructing the second international airport in Nijgadh, including a fast-track road linking Kathmandu with Nijgadh.
While expressing India’s interest in constructing the airport, Sushma Swaraj had told the conference: “The two visits of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Nepal last year gave a significant impetus to bilateral cooperation in different fields. Hydropower projects now need to be speedily implemented and work on construction of the Kathmandu-Nijgadh fast-track road and the Nijgadh airport with India’s participation should be expedited.”
The Indian consortium comprising Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (IL&FS) Transportation Networks, IL&FS Engineering and Construction and Suryavir Infrastructure Construction have already prepared the detailed project report of the project.
However, a parliamentary Finance Committee, on March 20, had recommended to the government to mobilise its own resources to construct the Nijgadh airport and the fast-track road.
Nepal’s Minister for Tourism and Civil Aviation Anand Pokhrel echoed the same view and told the House panel that the government would mobilise its own resources for constructing the project.
In a recent Parliamentary Party meeting, main opposition Nepali Congress had criticised the government for not expediting construction of the second international airport.
At present, Nepal has only one international airport — the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) at Kathmandu. TIA has one domestic and one international terminal and it handled 3.21 million passengers last year.
At present, about 30 international airlines connect Nepal to destinations in Asia and the Middle East, and the airport serves as a hub for several Nepali airlines.
(Anil Giri can be contacted at [email protected])