Locals await inauguration of Suntharali Airport

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By Prem Raj Simkhada,Kalikot, Oct. 31: How long do you think it will take to build an airport? Eight years? 10? 15, 20, 30? Well, it took 38 years to complete the construction of the Suntharali Airport in Kalikot. 

Ground was broken on the airport in Kotwada, Narharinath Rural Municipality – 1, Kalikot in 1985 with a budget from the then-District Development Committee. After nearly four decades, the construction work finished eight months ago. So when will it begin hosting planes? Maybe another four decades later, locals jest because the authorities keep postponing its inauguration.

So far, the inauguration has been pushed back five times. The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) had first announced that the airport would host its inaugural flight on April 26. But that day came and went without any plane landing. 

Then, the Authority declared June 28 as the date for Suntharali’s inauguration but later deferred it to July 29. However, Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Sudan Kirati expressed his inability to come to Kalikot on that day as it was the anniversary of his mother’s death and promised to have the airport officially open on August 30.

There were talks of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ attending the August opening. 

According to sources, the Prime Minister was not in favour of coming to Kalikot to only inaugurate an airport. So, the plan was for him to inaugurate the airport while coming to pray at the Badimalika Temple in the neighbouring Bajura district. But insiders say that he did not feel comfortable worshipping the goddess only a month after his wife’s passing. So, the airport did not get an inauguration in August too.

“It’s not something that can be admitted easily. Someone who rejected religion in the past chose to not travel for the airport’s inauguration to observe religious restrictions,” a person with strong links to the Prime Minister’s Office said on the condition of anonymity.

Everyone thought the airport would surely be inaugurated on September 29. Even the security agencies had been told that the Prime Minister and the Civil Aviation Minister would be arriving. Once again though, the people were left disappointed.

Agra Bista, a resident of Kotwada, said that he did not expect the airport to come into operation under the present government.

Meanwhile, others speculate that Suntharali has fallen victim to political wrangling. As the first test flight had occurred when Jeevan Shahi of the Nepali Congress was the Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, the party is believed to want Shahi to be the one to get to inaugurate the completed airport. 

At the same time, CPN (Maoist Centre), which has made the airport an issue in multiple elections, want to see it opened under the present government while they hold the office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation.

Mahendra Bahadur Shahi, a member of the House of Representatives elected from Kalikot, has been working hard for the latter. But local Maoist leaders claim that his efforts have not been met with enthusiasm from Prime Minister Prachanda and Minister Kirati.

An airport that took 38 years to complete will need another 38 years to be inaugurated, the locals continue to joke.

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