Environmental Mis-Assessment, Development and Mining in Orissa, India


  • Heather P. Bedi

    1. Holds a PhD in Geography from the University of Cambridge, and is currently a Lecturer at Freie University Berlin, Ihnestraße 22, Berlin, Germany 14195. Her research focuses on the geographies of contentious development in India and transnationally.
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I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their suggestions. I would also like to acknowledge helpful comments on earlier versions of the paper from Bhaskar Vira, Isayvani Naicker, Lindsay Galbraith, Samuel Spiegel and Kim Beazley. I appreciate feedback from the Members of the Cambridge Political Ecology Reading group who read the draft. I am indebted to those interviewed in support of this research, whose identities remain anonymous. During the initial research, Patrik Oskarsson, Mamata Dash, Poonam Joshi, Ramesh Gopalakrishnan, Peter Frankental and Kanchi Kohli provided useful insights.


Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) are the pre-project standard for outlining potential environmental and social risks related to large-scale mining. Incomplete or disingenuous EIAs mask the potential social, environmental and economic impacts of large projects. To examine the possible misrepresentation of project risks, this article analyses a set of EIAs for the proposed Niyamgiri mine and related Lanjigarh refinery and refinery expansion in Orissa, India. In contrast to their promises of development benefits, it is argued that the project assessments fail to acknowledge the substantial social impacts for project-affected persons as some face displacement, livelihood change, marginalization and a loss of natural resources. The issues raised here are not unique to these cases, but are representative of a flawed system in which environmental clearance is granted for projects with misleading or mis-assessed EIAs. This article questions the validation of ‘development’ projects via EIAs which do not thoroughly estimate the social risks and costs of projects.