KATHMANDU, Aug 21: A pressure group formed by Pokhara locals has decided to shut Pokhara Airport on Thursday to exert pressure on the government for initiating construction of regional international airport in the lake city.
Members of the group, who picketed Singhadurbar - the country´s main administrative complex -- on the day, have also threatened to call indefinite Pokhara Banda if their one-point demand is not addressed. They organized sit-in outside the southern gate of Singhadurbar for around two hours on Tuesday.
Pokhara locals have been organizing series of protest programs after the government failed to initiate airport construction process even after six months of inviting tender. Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) had invited Engineering Procurement and Construction (EPC) contract for execution of the project on February 9. Although the authority had planned to award the tender by mid-July, the process was halted as quotation of the lowest bidder was nearly double the estimated cost.
Pokhrelis picket Singhadurbar on Tuesday. (Photo: Dipesh Shrestha)
Bishwo Shankar Palikhe, a member of the pressure group, said agitation was necessary to draw the government´s attention. “The project has remained unexecuted even though the government acquired land for the airport in 1975,” Palikhe said, expressing grave concerns over sudden halt in the project. “I think vested interest of some people is delaying the project.” He also said members of the pressure group met Chief Secretary Leelamani Paudel and Vice-Chairperson of National Planning Commission Deependra Bahadur Kshetry and urged them to execute the project at the earliest.
More than 1,000 people demonstrated in front of Singhadurbar. The demonstration led by Pashchimanchal Hotel Association also obstructed vehicular movement in New Baneshwar and Maitighar for about two hours. The pressure group has also submitted a memorandum along with 101,000 signatures of Pokhara locals to tourism minister Post Bahadur Bogati.
It has warned airlines operating in Pokhara not to sell any ticket on the sector for Thursday. Following this, the domestic airlines have cancelled Thursday´s flights to and from Pokhara.
“We have cancelled the flights considering the safety of our passengers,” Rupesh Joshi, executive manager of Buddha Air, said.
Meanwhile, a senior official at the Ministry of Culture Tourism and Civil Aviation has confirmed that Chinese government had extended the deadline for loan agreement for the project by one more month.
Earlier, China´s EXIM Bank, which is providing loft loan of $145 million for the project, had set August 30 as the deadline for loan agreement.
Government officials said the process to construct international airport in Pokhara was on track and that there was nothing to worry about. Tourism secretary Yagya Prasad Gautam said the ministry and CAAN had no intention of delaying the project. “Although there is some confusion due to high cost compared to our previous estimation, the project is on track,” added Gautam. “I am positive about the project, but it is important to consider the returns.”
Gautam also requested members of the pressure group not to intensify the protest as it might hamper tourism business.
Rajkaji Gurung, coordinator of high-level committee for Pokhara airport construction, said the present confusion was because of the execution model. “Although the government called the tender in EPC model, the processing was carried in BOQ (Bills of Quantities) model,” Gurung said, adding that it has created confusion on initiation of the project.