Cable car proposal is Nepal’s latest plan to commercialize national parks

  • Nepal’s Ministry of Forest and Environment is considering allowing the construction of ropeways to carry cable cars within protected areas, according to a draft regulation seen by Mongabay.
  • The proposed regulation aims to permit ropeway construction if it facilitates transportation to religious or tourist sites, provided no alternative transport options exist or if cable cars are deemed more environmentally friendly.
  • The draft regulation suggests criteria for ropeway construction, including locating base or final stations outside protected areas and minimal infrastructure within, along with proposed fees based on the length of the ropeway.
  • The plan comes on the heels of similar moves to open up Nepal’s protected areas to hydropower development and to hotels.

This is the second story in a three-part miniseries on Nepal’s development plans around protected areas. Read Part One and Part Three.

KATHMANDU — Nepal’s Ministry of Forest and Environment is preparing to allow the construction of ropeways inside protected areas of the country, a draft of a proposed regulation seen by Mongabay suggests.

Ropeways, which carry cable cars, are not permitted in protected areas such as national parks under current laws. But the proposed National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Regulations show the government plans to allow their construction if it eases travel for people and goods to and from religious or tourist sites, provided no other viable public transportation options exist or if a ropeway is deemed more environmentally friendly and wildlife-friendly compared to alternative transport methods.

“We are yet to finalize the finer details of the regulation,” Bed Kumar Dhakal, spokesperson for the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, told Mongabay. He denied that a draft was already being finalized. However, a government source showed Mongabay a draft of the document, which also contains a provision to allow hotels and resorts back into national parks such as Chitwan, home to iconic wildlife such as tigers and rhinos.

Talks of the draft regulation come a few months after Nepal’s government recently issued a controversial new directive allowing the construction of large-scale hydropower plants inside the country’s protected areas, despite opposition from conservationists. The Ministry of Forest and Environment is also working new regulations to permit hotels to operate within national parks like Chitwan, according to a draft seen by Mongabay.

A cable car from Tumingtar, Chitwan, to Manakamana, Gorkha.
A cable car ropeway from Tumingtar, Chitwan, to Manakamana, Gorkha. Ropeways, which carry cable cars, are not permitted in protected areas such as national parks under current laws. Image by Bhaskar Pyakurel via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

The issue of ropeway construction in protected areas cropped up after the previous minister of forest and environment, Prem Bahadur Ale, issued an executive order in May 2020 that opened up protected areas to hydropower projects as well as ropeways.

However, opponents mounted a legal challenged to the order, and a court annulled it a year later, saying it didn’t recognize the order. It also called on the government to prepare appropriate legislation to address the issue.

Ropeways have attracted a lot of attention from the private sector in Nepal as a profit-generating tourism product. Private corporations have proposed around a dozen ropeways around the country and pledged to invest millions of dollars on them. Some of the proposed projects, such as one in the Annapurna Conservation Area, either pass through or are based in protected areas, prompting ecological concerns such as habitat degradation and fragmentation.

The proposed regulation states that either the base station or the final station of a ropeway needs to fall outside a protected area and on private land. It also states that developers will be allowed to develop only the bare minimum of structures absolutely required for the functioning of the facility.

According to the draft regulation, the annual fees developers have to pay the government for land will be determined based on the length of the ropeway. While projects that run less than 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) will be charged 1.8 million rupees ($13,500), those running longer than 5 km (3 mi) will be charged 5 million rupees ($37,500).

Banner image: A woodpecker in Chitwan National Park. Image by Jonny via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Abhaya Raj Joshi is a staff writer for Nepal at Mongabay. Find him on 𝕏 @arj272.

Read Part Three here:

Adventure tours with tigers? Nepal’s proposed policy changes raise alarm