December 1: The government’s plan to upgrade Biratnagar Airport to the international standard has not progressed effectively. Despite issuing an order to halt the transfer and transactions of 126 bighas of land in order to acquire them, the concerned authorities have not evaluated those land yet even in 15 months. The locals have been enraged due to this negligent attitude of the government. Although all three tiers of government had reached an agreement regarding this issue a long time ago, the work of airport expansion has still not gained any momentum.
Biratnagar Metropolitan City, the state government and the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) had reached an understanding to upgrade the airport on September 5, 2020. However, any work of the airport expansion has not been able to move forward as the concerned authorities have not able to ask for the budget with the government in time due to the delay in study for the compensation criteria.
The agreement states that the runway length of the airport will be extended up to 3,000 meters. It has been agreed that the federal government will bear 50 percent of the total cost, the state government will bear 40 percent and the local government will bear 10 percent for land acquisition.
As per the agreement, the government has already an order to withhold transfer of 126 bighas of land in order to acquire those lands from the locals. The issue of compensating the land owners has not moved ahead even after such a long time.
The government had blocked the transfer of the land by issuing a notice in Gorkhapatra on April 6, 2021 to acquire 1,400 plots of land for the expansion of the airport. According to Uddhav Karki, a member of the Biratnagar Airport Victims' Struggle Committee, the problem has arisen as the work procedure for land acquisition does not clearly mention the time interval between land acquisition and compensation distribution.
He complained that even the municipality and ward offices have stopped other development work in those areas since one year arguing that the land now belongs to the airport.
The Ministry of Industry, Forest and Tourism of Province 1 has been saying that the work of preparing the Detailed Project Report (DPR) is still underway.
At present, the ministry itself does not have a minister. Mayor of Biratnagar Metropolitan City, Bhim Parajuli said that the work of Biratnagar Airport has been stalled due to the negligence of the central and state governments.
Airport chief Utsav Kharel said that the expansion of the airport has slowed down as the government has not managed the budget for the compensation. “Now the government has to tell us to either work or stop the work,” he said.
A Compensation Evaluation Committee has been formed under the coordination of Morang’s Assistant Chief District Officer Mahesh Raj Timsina for the distribution of compensation. The committee has not been able to resolve the issue of compensation yet. Assistant Chief District Officer Timsina said that a study is being conducted on what basis the compensation should be provided.
Work is being done to determine the basis of compensation including the tax paid by the landowner to the municipality, the investment made by the banks and financial institution, the valuation of the land and the current price of the land, the condition of the infrastructure etc.
The expansion of the airport is estimated to cost Rs 13 billion except for land acquisition. It is estimated that Rs. 4 billion will be spent for the construction of terminal building and expansion of the runway within five years. A cost Rs 2 billion has been estimated for a three-kilometer diversion of Bastakhola water and approach light management. Plans have been made to build additional infrastructure worth Rs 7 billion by 2027-2030.
The current evaluation of the land of the locals which has been withheld from transfer or transaction to upgrade the airport is Rs 300,000 to Rs 500,000 per 16.929 square meters (1 dhur).
The airport currently has infrastructures that include an airplane apron that can accommodate five aircraft with a capacity of 72 seats, two taxiways connecting the runway and the apron, airfield lighting systems for night flights and landings, firefighting and rescue services, aviation fuel, air communication services, air traffic controller services, and seasonal services.