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Society | Karnali’s key airport runway expansion hits a roadblock

Society | Karnali’s key airport runway expansion hits a roadblock

Surkhet: The provincial and federal governments’ plans to expand the runway of a key airport in Karnali Province is in limbo after residents living near the airport protested against the idea.

A budget of around Rs 1 billion allocated for the expansion of Surkhet Airport’s runway has been frozen due to lack of progress in the project this fiscal year. The Karnali state government had allocated Rs 500 million and the central government Rs 510 million for the expansion work. 

Currently, airports in Karnali Province are small and their runways do not support big aircraft. After it was named the province’s capital, the provincial government planned to expand the airport so that big aircraft could also land in Karnali. The runway is only 1,255 meters long and does not support the landing of big aircraft. The government plans to increase the length of the runway to 1,555 meters. 

At the heart of the controversy is the government decision to acquire 30 bighas (12.5 acres) of land for the expansion work. Around 200 households living on the soon-to-be-acquired land are demanding that the government provide adequate compensation for their land. However, officials and the land owners are yet to reach a consensus on the issue.

If the obstruction continues, the project may not kick off even in the next fiscal year, officials warn. The federal government has said it has allocated a budget for the airport for the coming new fiscal year, but the amount allocated has not been confirmed.

However, Civil Aviation Authority, Surkhet, expects work to start from the new fiscal year. Umesh Kumar Panthi from the authority said that the expansion work will be completed as the central government has already allocated a budget for it. 

The Karnali government has also stated that it will continue to push the plan to expand the airport. Minister for Internal Affairs and Law Sita Kumari Nepali, also the spokesperson of the government, says, “We will expand the airport in the coming fiscal year by addressing the demands of the locals.”

She says that the project will be taken forward on the basis of consensus by addressing the demands of the locals. “The government is ready to address the demands of the locals,” she adds. “The airport will be expanded based on consensus.”