National Herald case: SC stays Delhi HC decision asking AJL to vacate premises

In a reprieve for Associated Journals Ltd, the publisher of the National Herald, the Supreme Court has stayed a Delhi HC order asking the publisher to vacate the National Herald House at ITO, in New Delhi

The Supreme Court, on April 5, 2019, stayed the Delhi High Court order asking Associated Journals Ltd (AJL) to vacate the National Herald House building in New Delhi. A bench headed by chief justice Ranjan Gogoi also issued notice to the centre’s Land and Development Office (L&DO) on the plea of AJL, publisher of the National Herald and sought their response within four weeks.

The bench, also comprising justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, questioned the arguments of solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the L&DO, as to how the alleged ‘clandestine’ transfer of shares of AJL to YI, in which the Gandhis have controlling stake, amounted to a violation of the lease agreement. “The question is, will this amount to violation of lease agreement. We will have to examine. Issue notice and stay (on eviction),” the bench ordered.

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Earlier AJL had moved the apex court against the high court order that dismissed its plea to restrain the centre from taking any ‘coercive steps’ to vacate its premises at Herald House, in ITO area in the heart of the national capital. The appeal in the top court said the determination of the lease deed is malicious, arbitrary, based on extraneous grounds and has been effected for political considerations, contrary to the express provisions of the lease deed itself. It said that the high court’s several findings have been rendered based on oral arguments of the centre and a list of dates handed over at the time of arguments, without there being a single affidavit placed on record by the official-respondents (centre).


National Herald case: AJL moves SC against centre’s eviction order

Associated Journals Ltd, the publisher of the Congress’ mouthpiece National Herald, has filed a plea in the Supreme Court, challenging a high court order on vacating its premises at ITO, in New Delhi

March 12, 2019: Associated Journals Ltd (AJL), on March 11, 2019, filed an appeal in the Supreme Court, against the Delhi High Court order dismissing its plea to restrain the centre from taking any ‘coercive steps’ to vacate its premises at Herald House, situated in the ITO area in the heart of the national capital. AJL, the publisher of the National Herald, also urged the apex court to set aside the centre’s October 30, 2018 order ending its 56-year-old lease and asking it to vacate the premises on the grounds that no printing or publishing activity was going on and the building was being used only for commercial purposes.

Terming the eviction proceedings before the single-judge bench and double-judge bench in the high court as biased and malafide, AJL in its appeal said “The eviction proceedings have been initiated for the purposes of scuttling the voice of democratic dissent of the Congress Party. It is a clear affront to the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and a deliberate attempt to suppress and destroy the legacy of the first prime minister of the country, i.e., Jawaharlal Nehru, who was the guiding light for the publications of the petitioner-company.”

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Apart from urging the apex court to set aside the Delhi High Court order of February 28, 2019, the plea as an interim relief sought restraining the centre from taking ‘any coercive steps qua the demised premises or from pursuing any remedy available under the Public Premises Act during the pendency of the instant Special Leave Petition’.


National Herald case: Centre issues show-cause notice to AJL over eviction

The centre has issued a show-cause notice to National Herald publisher Associated Journals Ltd under the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, asking why an eviction order should not be issued for the premises occupied by the publisher at ITO, in New Delhi

March 7, 2019: The centre has issued a show-cause notice to Associated Journals Ltd (AJL), the publisher of National Herald, asking it why an eviction order should not be issued, to get its premises at ITO in Delhi vacated, an official of the union Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry said, on March 6, 2019. The notice comes after the Delhi High Court dismissed AJL’s plea challenging a single-judge order to vacate the premises at ITO.

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According to the official, the government has initiated proceedings under the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1971 in the case, following the court’s order. “A notice was issued on Tuesday (March 5, 2019) under the PP Act, seeking the AJL’s reply by March 13, as to why an eviction order should not be issued,” the official said.


Delhi HC dismisses National Herald publisher AJL’s plea against eviction order

The Delhi High Court has dismissed National Herald publisher Associated Journals Ltd’s plea, challenging a single-judge order to vacate its premises at ITO, in New Delhi

February 28, 2019: A Delhi High Court bench of chief justice Rajendra Menon and justice VK Rao, on February 28, 2019, rejected the appeal of Associated Journals Ltd (AJL), the publisher of National Herald, in which it had challenged the centre’s decision asking it to vacate the ITO premises. “We have dismissed the appeal,” the bench said. It also rejected the oral request of AJL’s counsel that they be granted two weeks’ time, to vacate the premises.

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During the arguments earlier, AJL, represented by senior advocate Abhishek M Singhvi, had said the transfer of the company’s majority shares to Young India (YI), would not make Congress president Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi the owners of the Herald building. He also contended that the centre never raised the issue of lack of printing activity at the Herald building prior to June 2018, by when publishing of some of its online editions had already commenced. The centre, represented by solicitor general Tushar Mehta, had argued that the manner the shares were transferred, the court needs to ‘pierce the corporate veil’ of AJL, to see who owns the premises – Herald House – leased to it for running a printing press.


National Herald case: Centre opposes AJL’s appeal against eviction order, in Delhi HC

The central government, in the Delhi HC, has opposed an appeal by Associated Journals Ltd against an eviction order, saying that the premises leased to the firm were no longer used for printing purposes and that the firm clandestinely transferred its majority shares

January 29, 2019: The centre, on January 28, 2019, opposed in the Delhi High Court, an appeal against a single-judge order, asking National Herald publisher Associated Journals Ltd (AJL) to vacate its premises, saying the firm ‘clandestinely’ transferred its majority shares to Young India, in which Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi are shareholders. A bench of chief justice Rajendra Menon and justice VK Rao were told by solicitor general Tushar Mehta that the land was allocated to AJL on lease, for a printing press and this ‘dominant purpose’ was stopped several years back.

The bench was hearing arguments on AJL’s appeal against the single judge’s December 21, 2018 decision, which had dismissed its plea challenging the centre’s order to vacate its premises. Mehta, representing the centre, said,

“The National Herald newspaper stopped publication in 2008 and employees were offered voluntary retirement scheme. In 2010-11, clandestinely, this property worth thousand crores, was transferred to Young India (YI). When the team went for inspection to see whether the purpose was going on, nothing was found.”

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for AJL, argued that the first inspection notice was given on September 6, 2016 and the allegation of not doing press activity at the premises, was made for the first time on June 8, 2018. He added that the concept of press was not a hard structure press and the digital version of the newspaper was started on November 14, 2016.

During the hearing, the solicitor general also argued that by taking note of certain dates, the court ‘will find the calculated clandestine design to transfer shares to YI’. The court will hear further arguments in the matter on February 1, 2019.

The single judge had earlier said in its order that by transfer of AJL’s 99 per cent shares to YI, the beneficial interest of AJL’s property worth Rs 413.40 crores stands ‘clandestinely’ transferred to YI. It is pertinent to mention that the centre had contended before the court that the transfer of 99 per cent stake in AJL to YI, when the latter bought the former’s Rs 90-crore debt for a consideration of Rs 50 lakhs, led to a ‘virtual’ sale of the Herald building at ITO.


National Herald case: Delhi HC to hear AJL’s appeal against eviction order, on January 16, 2019

The Delhi HC has postponed the hearing of an appeal by Associated Journals Ltd, against an order to vacate the premises in press enclave at New Delhi’s ITO, to January 16, 2019, due to the unavailability of the counsels for AJL and the centre

January 10, 2019: The Delhi High Court, on January 9, 2019, said it will hear on January 16, 2019, the appeal of Associated Journals Ltd (AJL), the publisher of National Herald newspaper, challenging the single judge order, asking it to vacate its premises in New Delhi’s ITO, due to non-availability of advocates on January 15, 2019. In the morning, the court was informed that solicitor general Tushar Mehta, who would argue the case on behalf of the centre and senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing AJL, were not available during the day and the matter be listed on January 15, 2019.

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However, at 12:15pm the counsel for both sides again mentioned the matter before a bench of chief justice Rajendra Menon and justice VK Rao that the matter be heard on January 16, 2019, as Singhvi would not be available on January 15, as well. The court listed the matter for hearing on January 16, 2019, after both the sides consented to it.


National Herald case: Associated Journals appeals against single judge order to vacate Delhi premises

Associated Journals Ltd has approached the Delhi High Court, challenging a single judge order asking it to vacate the premises in press enclave at New Delhi’s ITO

January 7, 2019: Associated Journals Ltd (AJL), the publisher of the National Herald newspaper, has sought a stay on operation of a single judge’s December 21, 2018 order, asking it to vacate the premises in press enclave at ITO, New Delhi. Advocate Sunil Fernandes, representing the AJL, said the appeal was filed on January 5, 2019 and it is likely to come up for hearing on January 9, 2019.

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The Delhi High Court had dismissed AJL’s plea challenging the centre’s order to vacate its premises, by holding that the publisher of the National Herald had not provided any instances to support the serious allegations of malafide levelled against the ruling dispensation. It had said AJL will have to vacate the ITO premises within two weeks after which eviction proceedings under the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupants) Act, 1971, would be initiated. The centre had ended its 56-year-old lease and asked the AJL to vacate the premises, saying that no printing or publishing activity was going on.

Considering the factual nature, legal complexities and voluminous issues raised in the writ petition, it was indeed appropriate that the single judge ought to have issued formal notice and asked the respondent to place their say formally by way of an counter/reply affidavit, rather than taking documents across the bar and then proceeding dismiss the writ petition, the appeal, filed through Priyansha Indra Sharma, said. “In doing so, the single judge has displayed an unwarranted haste, uncalled for in the facts and circumstances of the present case,” it added. In its order, the single judge had said that AJL has been ‘hijacked’ by Young Indian (YI), in which Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi are shareholders.


Associated Journals moves HC, challenging the centre’s order ending the National Herald building lease

The publishers of the National Herald newspaper have approached the Delhi High Court against the centre’s order ending its 56-year-old lease and asking it to vacate the premises at ITO, in New Delhi

November 13, 2018: Associated Journals Ltd (AJL), the publisher of the National Herald newspaper, approached the Delhi High Court on November 12, 2018, challenging the centre’s order, ending its 56-year-old lease and asking it to vacate the premises in the press enclave at ITO, New Delhi. The plea, challenging the October 30, 2018 order of the Urban Development Ministry ending the lease and asking it to vacate the premises by November 15, 2018, is scheduled to come up for hearing on November 13, 2018 before justice Sunil Gaur.

The plea sought the quashing of the Land and Development Office’s (L&DO’s) order, on the ground that it was ‘illegal, unconstitutional, arbitrary, tainted with malafide and without authority and jurisdiction’. “The petitioner (AJL) has been in lawful possession of the demised premises for the last 56 years (since 1962) and the respondent (centre) vide the impugned order, seek to dispossess the petitioner and re-enter the premises,” said the petition, filed through advocates Sunil Fernandes and Priyansha Indra Sharma.

It also said the centre has warned them of action under the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1971, if they failed to vacate the premises. One of the grounds mentioned in the L&DO order is that no press has been functioning in the premises for the last at least 10 years and that it is being used only for commercial purposes, in violation of the lease deed.

This allegation has been refuted by AJL in the petition filed by the firm and its company secretary. “The requirement of running a press, cannot mean that all press and printing related activities have to necessarily be conducted at the same premises, that is, demised premises. The imperatives of prudent commercial business operations, may necessitate that the petitioner company utilise the infrastructure or the premises at some other place, as a supplement to their operations in the present demised premises,” the plea said.

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According to the petition, AJL initially received a show-cause notice from the L&DO in June 2018, which was based on an inspection carried out in April. It claimed that the inspection was not conducted to ascertain whether there was any printing activity at the premises. AJL gave a detailed reply to the notice on July 16 and October 9, 2018, saying that printing activity was carried out by it over the last several decades and also as on date of issuance of the notice, it said.

As per the petition, the digital versions of English newspaper ‘National Herald’, Hindi’s ‘Navjivan’ and Urdu’s ‘Qaumi Awaz’, have commenced since 2016-17. The weekly newspaper ‘National Herald on Sunday’ was resumed from September 24, 2017 and the place of publication was the ITO premises, the petition claimed and added that the Hindi weekly newspaper ‘Sunday Navjivan’ was also being published since October 2018 from the same premises. “The necessary licenses and authorisations for the purposes of publication were also placed on record, in particular, the necessary licenses have been obtained by the petitioner (AJL),” it said.

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