When the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath began its mobilisation in the 1980s then Punia Baba once again came into his own. He led the villagers from about five villages in the fight against the Forest Department which was fought along with many tribal organisations across the country. Despite being illiterate he was a very perceptive political activist and so invariably a part of any major delegation of the KMCS for discussions with administrators and mainstream political leaders. Eventually these efforts culminated in the legislation of the Forest Rights Act ( Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forestdwellers Act 2006) which seeks to do away with the injustice meted out to tribals in India from the British period onwards. Later he took an active part in the implementation of the FRA and is one of the few people in Madhya Pradesh who have got title deeds complete with a satellite map showing the location of his farm in the forest. Even though very few of the others in Alirajpur district have got such complete deeds nevertheless the total number is more than 8000 and the process is still continuing.
Punia Baba as a leading member of the KMCS was also targeted by the administration in the early 1990s when the battle against the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam on the river Narmada was at its peak. In one particularly harsh crackdown on the KMCS almost the whole of the leadership, including Punia Baba, were arrested on various false charges which included attempt to murder and then handcuffed and paraded in the streets of Alirajpur on different occasions. The picture below shows Punia Baba in handcuffs along with other activists of the Sangathan on their way to the magistrate's court in Alirajpur.
The Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath then took the administration to the Supreme Court for various rights violations. The Supreme Court took Suo Moto cognisance of the fact that the administration had blatantly violated earlier orders from it regarding not handcuffing under trial prisoners and especially political activists fighting for their rights and admitted a contempt petition. The strictures and directions passed by the Supreme Court on this petition are now the main law of the land regarding the use of handcuffs.
It was not only as a political activist that Punia Baba excelled but also as a first class environmental conservationist. He pioneered the Sangathan's forest conservation programme which covers more than fifty villages in Alirajpur that have members of the KMCS. Today the forests of his own village Pujara Chowki are one of the best in Alirajpur as shown in the picture below.
Punia Baba represented a rare breed of tribal activists who despite being illiterate were naturally militant and politically mature, flourishing as fighters for the rights of their people whenever they got an opportunity. That the the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath has been able to survive for thirty long years and is still fighting the hard fight against State injustice and oppression is because of the tenacity of such unheralded Titans as Punia Baba. We can only hope that he will not rest in peace but will be reborn with added vigour to continue the struggle for justice.