In a major set back to the Gandhi-family owned Associated Journals Limited, the Delhi High Court has rejected its plea against Centre's order asking it to vacate premises at ITO in New Delhi. AJL, now acquired by a company partly owned by Rahul and Sonia Gandhi, is the publisher of National Herald newspaper, originally a brainchild of Jawaharlal Nehru. The court has ordered AJL to vacate its registered office at Herald House, 5-A, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, New Delhi within two weeks.
Justice Sunil Gaur, hearing the matter said that AJL will have to vacate the premises at ITO in New Delhi within two weeks after which proceedings under the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupants) Act, 1971 would be initiated. The court passed the order on AJL's plea challenging the Centre's 30 October order ending its 56-year-old lease.
In the order, the Centre and Land and Development Office (L&DO) has said that no press has been functioning in the premises for at least past 10 years and it was being used only for commercial purposes in violation of the lease deed.
AJL is entangled in legal trouble since 2009 as BJP MP Subramanian Swamy has alleged that the Gandhi family swindled funds by transferring all of AJL's properties to a bogus company Young India. Swamy alleges that Young India acquired almost all the shareholding of AJL and all its properties (alleged to be worth Rs 5,000 crore). A company linked to AJL is also accused of tax evasion, while a separate case is underway about the ITO premise.
In this case, the AJL had told the court that it had been publishing the National Herald newspaper for decades. There was a temporary suspension due to financial trouble, but the newspaper and its digital media operations have fully resumed.
The weekly National Herald on Sunday was resumed on 24 September, 2017, and it is published from the Herald House. On 14 October, the AJL 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. AJL said those who came for inspection did not visit the rooms where the printing press was installed along with stocks of papers.
Countering the allegation in connection with Young India being a shareholder of AJL, Singhvi told the court the change in shareholding does not mean that the property has been transferred to Young India, and that AJL still owns the premises. Young India is a firm in which Sonia and Rahul each own a 38 percent stake.
He said AJL remains the leaseholder of the building and that the addition of a new shareholder does not in any way violate the lease conditions nor does it constitute sale or transfer of the property.
However, the court accepted the government's arguments and ordered the post-Independence era newspaper to vacate its premises at the prime Delhi location.
With inputs from PTI
Updated Date: Dec 21, 2018 14:53:38 IST