Forests at Maruthuamala near PonmudiAll who stand for protection of environment and rule of law should condemn the suspension of Kerala Forest Officer Balakrishna Pillai from service.

The guilt of Mr. Pillai, who was divisional forest officer of Trivandrum Forest Division, is that he had reported that the land proposed to be given to Indian Space Research Organisation for developing the campus of the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology is forest.

As about two dozen environmental activists and journalists, who visited the spot today, would confirm, the area is indeed forest. Mr. Pillai was only reporting the truth when he said that the area was forest with endemic trees such as chenkurinji (Gluta travancorica) and jewel orchid, though it might not have suited the machinations of those in power.

As a forest officer, Mr. Pillai is duty bound to report any event that would lead to destruction and alienation of forests.

Section 3B (Offences by the Authorities and Government Departments) of the Forest (Conservation) Act says that if any forest is assigned, diverted for non-forest purposes or otherwise destroyed officials in charge of shall be deemed guilty, proceeded and punished. The punishment specified is simple imprisonment for a period, which may extend to fifteen days.

Mr. Pillai acted in accordance with the law by reporting the situation to his superiors and avoided violation of the Act. He should have been punished if he had connived with higher ups in the State Government in their plan to clear the area and cut the trees, terming the area as revenue land for IIST campus.

Action is actually due against officials who issued orders diverting the forests for non-forestry purposes without clearance from the Central Government under the provisions of the Act.