HC orders National Herald to vacate premises in 2 weeks

New Delhi: In a setback to the Congress, the Delhi High Court on Friday dismissed a plea of Associated Journals Ltd (AJL) challenging the Centre’s October 30 direction asking the National Herald newspaper’s publisher to vacate the Herald House within two weeks.

Justice Sunil Gaur said that if the House is not handed over to the Land and Development Officer within two week, the government can initiate proceeding under the provisions of Public Premises Act.

The court noted that by transfer of AJL’s 99 per cent shares to Young Indian company, the beneficial interest of AJL’s property worth Rs 413.40 crore stands clandestinely transferred to Young Indian Company. In fact, AJL has been hijacked by Young Indian, the court said.

“In the instant case, beneficial interest of petitioner AJL is not technically transferred by way of sale/mortgage/gift, but it falls under the last category of ‘or otherwise’, as by the afore-noted novel modus operandi, AJL has been taken over by Young Indian company for all practical purposes,” the court said.

“This court is conscious of the fact that Young Indian company is a charitable company, but modus operandi to acquire 99 per cent of AJL’s shares speaks volumes. The manner in which it has been done is also questionable.”

During argument, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the court that transfer of 99 per cent shares of petitioner AJL to another company Young Indian violates Clause III(13) of the Lease Deed, which justifies cancellation of allotment and resumption of ‘subject premises’.

The Urban Development Ministry had said the AJL’s 56-year-old lease on Herald House had ended and asked it to vacate the premises by November 15.

The publisher had approached the High Court on November 12 challenging the Ministry’s October 30 order.

The AJL told the court that it has been publishing the newspaper for decades. There was a temporary suspension due to financial trouble, but the newspaper and its digital media operations have now fully resumed.

The publication of the weekly ‘National Herald on Sunday’ was resumed on September 24, 2017 and it is published from the Herald House. On October 14, the AJL also resumed its weekly Hindi newspaper.

The government reportedly inspected the premises a few months ago and found that the area allotted to AJL was not being used for the publication of the newspaper for the past 10 years, the court was told.

The court observed that AJL has not disclosed as to what is the volume of the publication of their newspaper and the extent of circulation of petitioners’ newspaper, both in print and online, across the country.

“What has been disclosed is that National Herald is a weekly newspaper and as regards the online publication of petitioners’ newspaper, no data is forthcoming,” the court said.

AJL has claimed that proceedings have been initiated for the purposes of scuttling the voices of dissent and the voice of the largest opposition party in the country.

The court also observed that AJL has not provided any instance to support its allegations of mala fide intention adopted by the ruling dispensation to
erase, efface and defame the legacy of former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

“To say the least, the allegations of mala fide are preposterous and no note of these allegations is required to be taken. In the instant case, the allegations of mala fide levelled by petitioner (AJL) are bald and unspecific and so, no notice of these allegations is taken,” the court said.

Earlier, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy had filed a complaint about “cheating” in the acquisition of AJL, which published the National Herald newspaper, by Young Indian, “a firm in which Sonia and Rahul Gandhi each own a stake.”

Swamy accused Congress President Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi of allegedly conspiring to cheat and misappropriate funds by paying only Rs 50 lakh, by which Young Indian Pvt Ltd obtained the right to recover Rs 90.25 crore which AJL owed to the Congress.