The writ petition at the Supreme Court faults a 2018 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for downplaying the impact on biodiversity and carbon sequestration potential of the Nijgad jungle – the last remnant of the once extensive Char Kose Jhari that stretched across the central Tarai.
Nepali Times received a copy of the EIA report, and found that it actually copy-pasted from a hydropower project in the mountains. It did not even delete technical references to ‘headwork’ and ‘powerhouse’. It cites Nijgad as being the habitat of the ghoral, an antelope-like mammal found only in the Himalaya.
One of the other concerns is noise pollution from heavy jets on the nearby Parsa National Park, but the EIA misses the point. Saying instead that noise will be mitigated by using ‘less dynamite’. Again, this seems to be from an EIA of a hydropower project.
The EIA was prepared by the firm GEOCE Consultants, whose area of expertise is hydropower. The EIA also overestimates passenger handling capacity of 60 million per year, lacks environmental and ecological assessment of the proposed ‘aeropolis’, quarry sites, and infrastructure in the construction and operation phases.
In its final phase, the airport would ultimately require 8,046 hectares of which nearly 95% is heavily forested at present. This has led critics to call Nijgad a “logging concession” rather than an international airport project.
Destruction of the Nijgad forest could impact on ground water recharge and river flow, affecting irrigation and agriculture production downstream in the fertile Tarai plains.
It would also remove the last remaining wildlife corridor for migration between the Tarai jungles and the Siwalik and Mahabharat ranges to the north.
Read also: Nepal must save Nijgad Forest to receive climate funds, Kashish Das Shrestha
Since the project area is a part of the Parsa National Park buffer area and lies in the Terai Arc Landscape (TAL), environmentalists say that the EIA should have analysed the impact of the project on biodiversity and wildlife much more carefully.
A 1994 report by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) showed the Nijgad forest to be ecologically fragile, rich in biodiversity and wildlife movement routes.
The forest has Khair, Sissoo, Sal and Satisal trees, some of which cannot be logged and exported by law according to the revised forest rules of 2001.
Hardwood tropical forests with their canopy cover and undergrowth are much more effective at carbon sequesteration, and experts have calculated that felling the Nijgad jungle would prevent 22,500 tonnes of carbon from being absorbed from the atmosphere annually.
Parts of the Nijgad jungle are community forests, or locally protected, and have small seasonal streams and natural drainage systems forming a ‘paini’ network that villagers traditionally use for wells, irrigation and drinking.
The EIA does not have a valuation of ‘ecosystem services’ and livelihood benefits for the 37,000 households that depend on the forest for firewood, fodder and water. If the forest is replaced by an airport, it could put further pressure on the nearby national park and other protected areas.
The EIA mentions that the government will compensate local communities for loss of livelihood, and initiate a major reforestation drive to replace the trees. But it does not mention where and how many trees will be planted. Nepal’s record for compensation and replanting in other infrastructure projects is poor.