Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on Sunday strongly advocated for the National Register of Citizens exercise, and said that authorities relied on “guesswork” on undocumented immigrants before it was implemented in Assam, PTI reported.

Gogoi said the NRC was an attempt to put things in perspective, and claimed that “19 lakh or 40 lakh does not matter” as it was “a base document for the future”. He was referring to the number of people left out of citizens’ list – more than 19 lakh in the final updated database published on August 31, and around 40 lakh in an earlier draft.

Gogoi said the NRC can be referred to establish future claims. The chief justice, who is heading the Supreme Court bench that is monitoring the exercise in Assam, criticised “armchair commentators” who presented a distorted image of the NRC.

The NRC exercise in Assam has caused a lot of chaos. The number of people left out comprise around 6% of Assam’s entire population. They will now have to appeal against the decision in foreigners’ tribunals.

Gogoi said the critics of NRC were not only disassociated from ground reality but were also affecting the development of the state. The chief justice, who hails from Assam, said that the exercise was not a “new or a novel idea”. “The NRC is not without contestations. Let me take this occasion to clarify. It found expression as early as in the year 1951 and in particular context of Assam in [the] year 1985 when the Assam Accord was signed,” he said. “In fact, the current NRC is an attempt to update the 1951 NRC.”

The NRC was first published in 1951 and was updated to exclude those who may have illegally entered Assam via Bangladesh after March 25, 1971.

Also read:

In Assam, after the NRC, a new project is underway to protect the ‘Assamese people’

The chief justice of India made the comments while addressing the book launch of Post Colonial Assam (1947-2019) by journalist Mrinal Talukdar in New Delhi. Gogoi claimed that guessing the number of undocumented immigrants “fuelled panic, fear and vicious cycle of lawlessness and violence”.

He said the entire NRC exercise was only trying to establish the number of undocumented immigrants. “The entire exercise is nothing but [a] 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 the life of not only individuals but of communities and culture across the region,” Gogoi said.

The top judge also lauded the citizens of Assam for going along with the various cutoff dates involved in the preparation of the exercise. “It needs to be told and brought on record that people who raised objections including these cutoff dates are playing with fire,” he said.

Apart from the CJI, Supreme Court judge Hrishikesh Roy was present at the event along with Indian Police Service officer AB Mathur, who was appointed as an interlocutor in the talks with the United Liberation Front and other groups in the North East.

Read all the stories in The Final Count series here.

Now, follow and debate the day’s most significant stories on Scroll Exchange.