January 09, 2019:
On Wednesday, the Delhi High Court said that it will hear on January 15 the appeal of Associated Journals Ltd (AJL), publisher of National Herald newspaper, challenging the single judge order asking it to vacate its premises here, due to non-availability of advocates.
Bench comprising of Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice V K Rao was informed by the Central Govt’s standing counsel Rajesh Gogna that they are led by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta but he was not available for the day.
The counsel for AJL said Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who will argue their case, was also not available.
The court listed the matter for hearing on Jan 15 after both the sides consented to it.
A single judge on Dec 21, 2018, had dismissed AJL’s plea challenging the Centre’s order to vacate its premises in press enclave at ITO here and asked it to vacate it within two weeks after which eviction proceedings under the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1971 would be initiated.
AJL has approached the high court seeking a stay on operation of the single judge’s order.
The HC had dismissed AJL’s petition challenging the Centre’s order by holding that the publisher of the National Herald has not provided any instance to support the serious allegations of malafide leveled against the ruling dispensation.
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.
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.
The Centre and Land and Development Office (L&DO) had said in their order that no press has been functioning in the premises for at least the past 10 yrs and it was being used only for commercial purposes in violation of the lease deed.
AJL had denied the allegations in the petition filed in the high court.
The HC had said by transfer of AJL’s 99% shares to YI, the beneficial interest of AJL’s property worth ₹413.40 crore stands “clandestinely” transferred to YI.
It is pertinent to mention that the Centre had contended before the court that transfer of 99% stake in AJL to YI, when the latter bought the former’s ₹90 crore debt for a consideration of ₹50 lakh, led to a “virtual” sale of the Herald building at ITO.
AJL had said the government kept silent till April 2018, when it again sent a notice for inspection and said it was coming to check breaches mentioned in notice of Oct 10, 2016.
The L&DO had ended the lease — entered into with AJL on Aug 2, 1962 and made perpetual on Jan 10, 1967 — asking the company to hand over the possession by Nov 15.
The L&DO’s order had also said failure to hand over possession would lead to initiation of proceedings under the Public Premises Act.
In its plea, AJL has also said the digital versions of English newspaper National Herald, Hindi’s Navjivan and Urdu’s Qaumi Awaz have commenced from 2016-17.
The weekly newspaper ‘National Herald on Sunday’ resumed on September 24 last year and the place of publication was the ITO premises, AJL had said, adding that the Hindi weekly newspaper Sunday Navjivan was also being published since Oct this year from the same premises.