RAA points to Environmental Mismanagement and Flood threat in Domestic Airports

The RAA report has not only stopped at the massive financial, legal and procedural irregularities in the construction of the airport but has also pointed out the environmental lapses in the construction of Younphula and Bathpalathang airports.

This includes the probability of flooding in the Gelephu and Bathpalathang airports which were not adequately addressed by the Environmental Impact Assessment.

The Report also criticized the fact that the EIA for Gelephu airport was given directly to a company named BHUCORE without any tendering process. The same company had won the open tenders for the EIA of the Younphula and Bathpalathang airports.

RAA has pointed out several deficiencies in the EIA of all three domestic airports.

The report says that the EIAs did not identify and address many pertinent environmental threats that the airports are likely to face in future. “For instance, the biggest threat in Gelephu airport at the moment is flooding by two seasonal streams that run at the two ends of the runway. The EIA report only made a mention of threats from flooding but did not assess in detail the probable extent and frequency of floods,” says the report.

It goes on to say that the runway faces probable risk of flashfloods from the runoffs generated from within the catchment area located towards the northern side of the runway. The threat from flooding was easily visible during the site visit and as also experienced by site engineer and site supervisor during construction of the runway.

The EIA report did not address any of the pertinent issues during the operational phase. It says the issues that were highlighted in the report were generic and only indicative without proper research and sufficient data. For instance the report said that there were chances of flooding in Bathpalathang airport. However, the report did not indicate what volume of river water; the runway was likely to flood.

The report says that mitigation recommended in the EIA report was not complied during construction phase of the project. It says that environmental concerns like dust emissions were completely neglected during the construction phase.

RAA further highlighted that the damage to the infrastructure of the Gelephu Domestic Airport by flooding was also due to inadequate of EIA.

The Master plan of the airport, following a thorough study on flooding risks of the airports had recommended that the runway elevation should be at least 322 meters at its lowest point. However, the lowest centerline was only 266.524 meters above sea level. RAA says that this could be one of the plausible reasons as why the Gelephu airport was threatened with flooding during the construction phase in last monsoon.

It also says that both the airports started construction without conducting the mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the projects and seeking Environmental Clearance based on it from the National Environment Commission.

The report says that the EIA was completed only in May 2011 whereas the work had commenced in May 2010 for Younphula airport and January 2010 for Bathpalathang airport.

As result the NEC levied a fine of Nu 2.41 mn paid by the Department of Civil Aviation from the budgeted amount meant for the construction of Younphula airport.

The report says that despite repeated reminders from the NEC of the need and importance of EIA, the DCA had commenced the construction of two airports violating the law of the country. “Besides the DCA failed to heed to a ‘stop order’ issued by Dzongkhag Environment Officers that resulted in payment of a hefty penalty draining limited available funds from the construction of airports.

It says that the Ministry should conduct appropriate EIA studies for the three domestic airports and proper remedial measures taken to safeguard the infrastructure in future.

The Direct accountability is on Director General Phala Dorji while the Supervisory accountability is on MoIC minister Lyonpo Nandalal Rai.

Meanwhile, though The Bhutanese tried to get comments and reactions from the MoIC to the RAA report the ministry refused to respond.

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