Ms. Ghimire is a research intern at Samriddhi Foundation, an economic policy think tank based in Kathmandu. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not represent the views of the organization. Author can be reached at Aarashi Ghimire [email protected]
The government of Nepal is yet again standing in the face of a dilemma. An airport which was planned to be constructed in Dharan around 2003 has again picked up discussion after the Tourism Minister of the country, ordered the Civil Aviation Authority to conduct a preliminary study for the project. This has raised a matter of concern as to why an airport is required when one is just an hour’s drive away. However, this is not new for the country. The tale of developmental projects being announced by the political parties without conducting proper studies is well known.
Nepal has a standing history of airports being constructed under political pressure. Among 50 domestic airports constructed, only 32 are in operation and the CAAN only makes an operating profit from 7. At the direction of political party leaders, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) has commenced the construction of ten new airports across various regions. CAAN has suggested that the approval for airports like Sagarmatha Airport was influenced by the then Urban Development Minister Narayan Khadka, while the then Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Bam Dev Gautam has been advocating for the establishment of the facility in Chalnetaar, Pyuthan. Additionally, the feasibility study for the Rampur Airport in Palpa was initiated during the tenure of Interim Election Government Chairman Khil Raj Regmi, who has roots in the district. This is no more than populist promises offered by political parties and their members to garner votes. This seems like electoral politics done by politicians as they promise such facilities in order to gain votes and later push for such haphazard construction.
According to the Civil Aviation body, a construction of a small airport with the most basic facilities would require at least NRs. 300 million and a further 200 million if it is blacktopped. If the recently proposed Dharan Airport is to be constructed, it would be at a distance of 40 km from the Biratnagar Airport connected by a 6 lane road. And if the newly constructed airport does not make operating profits, the burden of running the airport would be on the taxpayers’ money. For this we can look at how the country has been funding the construction of airports around the nation. The Janakpur Airport which now has a newly constructed terminal, cost Rs. 420 million. It does not make an operating profit, which is the fate of most airports in the country. The newly constructed international airport was constructed from a loan from China. If it is not able to pay its own loan, it is bound to be paid from the taxes collected. It is likely to drain taxpayers money.
Although the airports are seen as a sign of prosperity in the country, they are a loss of resources if constructed without sheer necessity. Such haphazard construction of airports in Nepal seems to underscore a recurring challenge between political agendas and genuine necessity. The pattern of constructing airports under political pressure, as seen in various regions, raises concerns about resource wastage and financial burden on taxpayers. While airports symbolize progress, their
viability and contribution to economic growth should be thoroughly evaluated. Ultimately, balancing the need for development with prudent resource allocation is essential to ensure sustainable progress in the country.