KATHMANDU, Sept 16: The issue of land purchase for Dharan airport is one of the reasons behind the annual budget of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) not being approved on Sunday, when a meeting of the CAAN board was scheduled.
Seven bigha (4.7 hectares) of the total 70 hectares required for Dharan airport is owned by Yeti Incorporate Pvt Ltd, a company promoted by entrepreneur and Managing Director of Yeti Airlines, Ang Chhiring Sherpa.
The board meeting to be chaired by Tourism Minister Jitendra Narayan Dev was postponed at the eleventh hour after failing to garner a quorum, and the agenda of budget approval remains undecided. Joint Secretary Suresh Acharya, who is a CAAN board member, was absent from the meeting without prior notice, according to CAAN sources.
In its budget of Rs 43 billion for the current fiscal year, the CAAN administration did not allocate any money for purchasing the 70 hectares and a process for acquiring the land has already been initiated separately by Dharan Sub-metropolis acting on its own. This land purchase is alleged to be similar to the controversial land purchase deal by Nepal Oil Corporation. CAAN may need Rs 3 billion for the land.
Sherpa had purchased the land from the locals in 2004 at a very cheap price. He had promised to build an airport there on the PPP model. But now he wants to sell the land to CAAN at a handsome price instead of providing it to the municipality at a cheaper rate.
Sources claim that Sherpa has pushed for allocating a budget for the land purchase but CAAN Director General Sanjiv Gautam does not agree with the idea. He says that CAAN has no policy of purchasing land for the airport.
Talking to Republica over the phone, Minister for Commerce Min Bahadur Biswakarma said, “CAAN does not purchase land but only builds the airport. Dharan Sub-metropolis has already initiated the purchase of the land for the airport. Biswakarma is a Nepali Congress Leader from Dharan. “CAAN should include some budget for the construction of the airport,” he added.
Not only was the board meeting postponed but Minister Dev returned to Kathmandu on Wednesday from Rajbiraj where he had gone to campaign in the election, and surprisingly sought clarifications from DG Gautam. He said Gautam’s performance appraisal was not satisfactory.
President of Nepal Lokatantrik Forum and Minister for Federal Affairs and Local Development Bijaya Gachchhadar piled pressure to provide budget for purchasing the land, it is learnt.
Minister Dev has questioned Gautam on the termination of the contract given to a Spanish company for upgrading Tribhuvan International Airport.
Dev and Joint Secretary Acharya did not respond to repeated phone calls and SMS on why the budget was not endorsed Sunday. Meanwhile, DG Guatam submitted his clarifications to the minister’s secretariat on Friday. Talking to Republica, Gautam said he submitted the clarifications to the ministry because the minister was out of town.