International Airport, Pokhara and the game of commission

By LB THAPA FOR THE ROAMING POST

A broken gate speaks volume. Photo: LB Thapa

Pokhara has everything that an ideal city should proud of. If it lacks anything then it is an international airport. Since there is no international airport in Pokhara, every year hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors got to land in Kathmandu and from Kathmandu they come to Pokhara. Of this detour they lose money as well as time. An international airport in Pokhara will certainly take little pressure off from Tribhuvan International airport. Since there is no more space available to extend the size of Tribhuvan International airport, an international airport in Pokhara is the only option to reduce pressure from TIA. It is therefore every possible effort should be made to construct an international airport in Pokhara, say many experts.

Over the last several years, people from all walks of life have shown keen desire for the construction of an international airport in Pokhara. To get it done the Pokhareli people resorted to anything seemingly possible. They organized rally, collected signatures, handed over memorandum to the political leaders, organized sit in protest before the Singha Darbar, followed relay sit in protest, interrupted the local flights and god knows what not! Beleaguered Pokhareli people put every possible effort from their side. However, their hard work and patience have yet not been fully materialized. Whatever work has been done so far is only at the snail’s pace.

In 1989, the government had conducted a feasibility study of the project in association with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Then the JICA had proposed to construct 2,500 meter long and 50 metre wide runway, a terminal and a cargo building with expected cost $39.6 million. The airport would be completed in four years. However, today the case is different. The overall expenditure on the construction of the airport has reached a jumbo budged. Now the estimated cost of the construction of airport is $305 million. There were three bidders which had submitted the tenders. CWT Company, Sino Hydro Corporation, and CAMC had applied for the tender at $349 million, $337 million and $305 million, respectively. Finally, the CAMC won the tender with $305 million.

In the meantime the Exim Bank has agreed to pay $305 million in condition of only Chinese firms to undertake the task with Engineering Procurement and Construction (EPC). It is learned that the Chinese firm wants to prepare a 3,000m runway with parallel taxiway, two terminals, a hangar, cargo terminal, radar, and air traffic control equipment. The airport will have been completed in two and half years. If this has been turned into reality then the airport will be far better than TIA.

Though the construction of the airport was moving gently, now it has come to the screeching halt. The matter of compensation of the land has become more complicated…almost reached a dead end. In the recent past, a group of local residents had approached the office of NCAA and asked for appropriate amount of compensation for their land. When talk failed, the land owners decided to padlock the office of NCAA. Upon this the police on duty used force to disperse the agitators. In the skirmish not only land owners received serious injuries but also the policemen.

The Pandora’s Box was opened as soon as the government began the process of acquisition of extra 60 acres of land. Previously the government had declared to pay Rs.2.2 million per ropani, but the local land owners asked for Rs.1.8 million per ‘ana’. The local owners have blamed the government for devaluing their property. The government has already distributed compensation for 3,106 ropani of land in the past without much problem.

Speaking with this scribe, a group of disgruntled local residents, whose land the government wants to acquire, said “There is a dirty politics going on here. There are some real estate agents (dalals), who are supported by local goons and political parties, have used dozer on the road and converted into plots overnight. Now they want huge compensation from the government. These people are very powerful as they can go to any extent to meet their ends. Why the concerned authority is mum over this issue. It seems that some people have supported to those Dalals from NCAA”.

Dil Bahadur Pun, the owner of the land, directly accused Maoist party for supporting the Dalals and playing dirty politics. “As per Hindu tradition, we need to offer something to our kuldeuta (family god). Without an offering is made no wish can be accomplished. Similarly, the task of the construction of Pokhara International Airport cannot be accomplished without allocating a fair share of commission to Maoist party men. I am very sure the entire problem is only because we have yet not pleased them. Once we pleased them, then you will see there will be no one to create obstacles for constructing the airport”.

Quite recently Lilamani Pudel, chief secretary of the government of Nepal, said that the inauguration of the airport will take place within the second week of March. This is not for the first time when a senior government official did make such declarations. There is a long list of high-ranking government officials including former Prime Ministers, who promised to make an international airport within their tenor. Their words only proved political rhetoric, nothing more than that. So, many political parties took advantages in the name of making the airport…but the real work of making an international airport only proved will-o-the-wisp.

Anyone who makes a close study of the construction of the international airport in Pokhara can understand the game of commission and corruption involved. There are people, supported by some political parties, want their part of commissions. To some extent the making of country’s constitution and the construction of an international airport in Pokhara have some features in common. The fundamental issue may be different, but the common interest is the same. Believe it or not, but truth is that a dirty politics of commission is deep involved in the whole matter. There are different groups involved here and all of them want their share of commissions. In this run, high ranking government officials and political leaders of different political parties are involved.

Unfortunately, Nepal does have a filthy track record of pocketing commission from major projects in the country. If political leaders don’t get their share of pie, they will never allow kicking off the projects. This is a bitter truth and no one can deny this fact. However, the question is can’t we sacrifice little greediness for the sake of the nation. Let’s not forget that the construction of international airport in Pokhara is directly associated with the promotion of tourism. This is sure that once international airport is constructed, it will enhance economic and non economic activities in the region. Hence, benefits are endless.

Until now migrant workers from the western region have to rush to Kathmandu to board international flights. But once the airport is in operation in Pokhara, they can simply board on foreign flights from Pokhara. This will definitely give much relief to migrant workers of the western region.

Above all, Pokhara does have better weather condition than Kathmandu. Poor visibility has been the cause of many flight cancellations in Kathmandu. Pokhara has always been better visibility in all weather conditions. Now time has come to decide what we really want. If really we want a regional international airport then all players must cast off their greed and join their hands for a greater cause. If not then it is still possible that this project, like other projects in the past, might be left in a limbo.

ABOUT THE BLOGGER

LB Thapa is a travel blogger. He is also the author of six books. His books have been published by Nirala Publications, New Delhi, India and Himalayan Maphouse, Kathmandu, Nepal. His book, POKHARA AND ANNAPURNAS has been translated into seven foreign languages. LB Thapa’s books are also available on www.amazon.com

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