Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda), marking the occasion of Buddha Jayanti, reaffirmed Nepal’s commitment to promoting Buddha’s teachings and transforming Lumbini, Buddha’s birthplace, into a global center for peace and religious tourism. However, the slow pace of the Lumbini Master Plan’s implementation and issues surrounding the new Gautam Buddha International Airport highlight significant challenges to these ambitious goals.

Speaking at the 2568th Buddha Jayanti and Lumbini Day programme, Prachanda emphasized the international significance of Lumbini and the government’s dedication to its comprehensive development. Prachanda’s declaration of commitment to Lumbini’s development is part of a broader vision to attract millions of Buddhists worldwide, thereby enhancing Nepal’s standing in religious tourism and global peace initiatives. The Greater Lumbini Development Project, presented at Nepal’s third investment conference, aims to attract foreign investment and complete the Lumbini Master Plan. Despite these efforts, progress has been sluggish. The Lumbini Master Plan, designed by Japanese professor Kenzo Tange in 1972, remains only 85% complete after nearly five decades, with a mere 3% improvement in the past five years.

Vice-Chairman Dr. Lharkyal Lama of the Lumbini Development Trust (LDT) highlighted that an additional Rs. 3 billion is needed to complete the plan. The government’s reluctance to allocate sufficient funds and budget constraints are major obstacles. This disparity between the government’s proclamations and the on-ground reality raises questions about the feasibility of transforming Lumbini into a global hub for peace and religious tourism.

The situation is mirrored in the case of the Gautam Buddha International Airport, which was inaugurated with high hopes on May 18, 2022. Built at a cost of approximately US$76 million, including US$37 from Asian Development Bank (ADB), US$11 from OPEC fund for international development and and others from Nepal government, the airport was envisioned as a key infrastructural asset to boost connectivity and economic growth in the region. Yet, nearly two years after its opening, the airport remains devoid of scheduled international flights.

The lack of international flights poses threats to the business community, which had pinned hopes on the airport’s potential to stimulate economic activity. Prime Minister Dahal mentioned ongoing discussions with the Indian government to secure an air route and negotiations with China and Sri Lanka to establish direct flights addressing the Public Policy and Delegated Legislation Committee of the National Assembly on April 4, 2024.