As of November 2013 acquisition of 97.27 hectares of land for upgrade and expansion of Gautam Buddha Airport had impacted upon 2,295 people, residing in 389 households, all of whom had lost their agricultural land and livelihoods. A total of 102 people, from 17 households, had lost their residences. In addition, 98 farm labourers were affected by the loss of agricultural land to the airport project. Eighty-four of the affected households were categorized as ‘vulnerable’, including 39 headed by women, 6 Dalit and 12 indigenous from the Tharu community. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) Social Monitoring Report covering the period January-July 2017 states that almost all the compensation had been paid and grievances regarding land acquisition and compensation settled, and that remaining grievances pertained to lack of employment opportunities at the airport project and lack of skills training for the jobs that were on offer.
In 2016 the Nepal government decided to acquire an additional 289.88 hectares of privately owned land for the Gautam Buddha Airport project. This additional land is beyond the scope of the ADB supported project. Social monitoring reports submitted to the ADB by the Government of Nepal and the South Asia Tourism Infrastructure Development Project (SATIDP) do not include detailed information about the people affected by the additional land acquisition, such as the exact number, the type of households affected or how they have been impacted.
Publication of acquisition notices for the additional land triggered protests at the project gate in April and May 2016. Commencement of a census and survey on the land in November 2016 was obstructed by a local leader and his followers. Some of the local landowners attending a meeting about the new phase of land acquisition, held on 11th April 2016, demanded either compensation in line with the market price or land of equivalent value. But the majority of affected landowners vowed that they would not give up even an inch of their land to the airport project.
By June 2017 1,269 landowners affected by the additional land acquisition had submitted compensation application forms at the project office. A list of grievances and demands included: publication of land acquisition notice without compensation rate; phased land acquisition resulting in uncertainty and fear of more land acquisition in the future; demand for protection for vulnerable affected persons unable to invest their compensation money; demands for compensation for assets including fruit, trees, bamboo, water pumps and businesses; conservation of and alternatives for temples and demands for employment training in the growing urban area as well as within the airport project. The ADB reported that Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) and the Gautam Buddha Airport Upgrading Component (GAUC) were committed to providing land in a resettlement area for all residents being displaced and that all affected people were peacefully participating in the compensation process.
Yet protests over irregularities and delays in land compensation payments erupted in November 2017. People affected by additional land acquisition obstructed the runway from 1st-3rd November, then obstructed the runway construction site on 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th December. Further instances of obstruction of construction work by people affected by additional land acquisition were reported in January-June 2018, with over 1,100 landowners not yet receiving compensation. An article in the 18th December 2017 edition of the Kathmandu Post reported that farmers and other local residents halted construction work at Gautam Buddha Airport in protest at delays in payment of compensation for land acquisition, padlocking the main entrance of the construction site. They demanded payment as had been agreed and complained that officials of the survey department, land revenue office and forest department had failed to furnish the paper necessary for them to receive compensation money. The economic burden of delayed compensation was compounded by being unable to cultivate land that had been acquired for the project. One landowner said they had been knocking on the doors of various government offices for months, to no avail. Landowners also claimed that government officials were attempting to extort extra money for prompt payment of compensation and that middlemen had surfaced and were demanding commission at rates of 2-3 per cent for quick payment.
Labour strikes have been reported in the social monitoring reports submitted to the ADB. On 2016, from 3rd to 9th August and again on 1st December, workers held a strike because they had not received their wages for periods of two to three months and were having difficulties in purchasing food and other necessities. The same serious adverse conditions led to several labour strikes in the reporting period from January to July 2017, including for a week beginning on 17th April.
The airport is named after the Buddha but its construction goes against the Buddhist traditional injunction to live lightly on the earth. Building Gautam Buddha Airport requires enormous volumes of gravel and sand. Regulations restricting extraction of these materials from the beds of local rivers due to environmental impacts threatened to stall the project. In June 2016 the project director stated that 300 trucks per day full of granular materials were necessary, adding that ‘high quality materials from two local rivers, the Godaha and the Tinau’ were required. Regulations only permitted extraction of materials using hand tools, not the excavating equipment necessary to extract large volumes. Local conservation groups adamantly opposed extraction of sand and gravel from local rivers. Officials from the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA) stated that the ministry supported procurement of local materials and was working to facilitate extraction, blaming local conservation groups for delays in issuing a permit.
In November 2016 it was reported that the airport project had been ‘freed from green shackles’ as the District Development Committee had granted permission to extract sand and gravel required for construction from the Tinau River using mechanical devices. The chief of the airport project outlined plans to extract 100,000 cubic meters from the Tinau River and said that 500,000 cubic meters of sand and gravel would be required. Nearly a year later, in October 2017, the airport project director urged further relaxing of rules regarding extraction of river materials, saying that 1 million cubic meters of soil and 300,000 cubic meters of sand were needed for the project but that these volumes were proving difficult to obtain. The government had allocated a few rivers for extracting sand and other materials but this was insufficient for supply of the volumes required. By the end of November 2017 the contractor reported that collection of river materials was underway; 25,000 cubic meters of materials had already been accumulated and the company was preparing to excavate another 150,000 cubic meters.
In April 2019 construction work was stalled when local authorities demanded a higher price for riverbed materials. Butwal Sub-Metropolitan City refused to supply gravel and sand unless payment was in line with current market rates, insisting that the rates quoted in an earlier agreement were too low. Swasam Construction was assigned to supply riverbed materials from the Tinau River by China’s Northwest Civil Aviation Airport Construction Group, contractor for the civil works component of the project. The proprietor of Swasam Construction said “when we reached the site to extract materials a week ago, city officials stopped us”. Supply of materials for the airport was also stalled by environmental laws prohibiting extraction of riverbed materials during the pre-monsoon season that commences in mid-May.