Criticising “armchair commentators” who had raised objections to the drive, the CJI said they were far from ground realities and had presented a highly distorted picture, due to which Assam and its development agenda had taken a hit. “They launch baseless and motivated tirades against democratic functioning and democratic institutions,” Justice Gogoi said, at the inauguration of the book Post Colonial Assam (1947-2019), written by veteran journalist Mrinal Talukdar.
The CJI, who belongs to Assam, heads the apex court bench that is monitoring the process of the NRC in the state. After he retires on November 17, the NRC case will be heard by a bench headed by the next CJI, S A Bobde.
“The NRC is not without contestations. Let me take this occasion to clarify,” Justice Gogoi said.
“The NRC is not a new nor a novel idea. It founds expression as early as in the year 1951 and in particular context of Assam, in year 1985, when the Assam Accord was signed. In fact, the current NRC is an attempt to update the 1951 NRC.”
Prior to the exercise, he said, there was “an enormous amount of guesswork” on the number of illegal immigrants in the state, which had fuelled “panic, fear and a vicious cycle of lawlessness and violence”. “There was an urgent need to ascertain, some degree of ascertaining, on the number of illegal immigrants, which the current exercise envisages. Nothing more and nothing less. The entire exercise is nothing but manifestation of one of the most peaceful means by which stakeholders seek to remedy the wrong and omissions of that turbulence whose effects changed the course of life of not only individuals but of communities and cultures across the region.”
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Accusing “careless” and “irresponsible reporting by a few media outlets” of “worsening the situation”, the CJI praised the citizens of Assam for displaying “magnanimity” and “largeheartedness” in accepting various NRC cut-off dates.
The updated final NRC in Assam was released on August 31 this year, excluding names of over 19 lakh applicants. A total of 3.30 crore people had applied to be included in the NRC.
CJI Gogoi said, “It needs to be told and brought on record that people who raised objections… are playing with fire. At the crossroads we need to keep in mind that our national discourse has witnessed the emergence of armchair commentators who are not only far removed from ground realities but also seek to present a highly distorted picture.”
He said the emergence of social media and its tools had fuelled the intent of such commentators, “who thrive through their double speak”. “They launch baseless and motivated tirades against democratic functioning and democratic institutions. Seeking to hurt them and bring down their due process. These commentators and their vile intentions do survive well in situations where facts are far removed from the citizenry and rumour mills flourish. Assam and its development agenda have been a victim of such armchair commentators,” he said.
Justice Gogoi added that people must resist the urge to find “wrongs and shortcomings everywhere” and “the constant desire to play to the gallery, by demeaning institutions”.
Regarding the NRC exercise, he said, “It is an occasion to put things in a proper perspective. The NRC is not a document for the moment. Nineteen lakh or 40 lakh does not matter. It is a base document for the future. It is a document to which one can refer to determine future claims. This in my comprehension is the intrinsic value of the NRC.”
Apart from the CJI, Supreme Court judge Hrishikesh Roy and 1975-batch IPS officer A B Mathur, who was last year appointed by the Centre as an interlocutor to hold talks with the ULFA and other groups in the Northeast, spoke on the occasion.
Justice Roy praised Talukdar’s book and said several historical aspects about Assam had come to light through it.
The apex court judge also quipped that if the CJI decided to write a book, it would be a “bestseller”.
Mathur said his talks with various groups in the Northeast were progressing satisfactorily. Urging all groups to come forward for talks, he said, “Ultimately, the people in Assam and in the whole of Northeast want peace and the region needs development.”