Delhi High Court reserves order on Associated Journals Ltd's plea challenging Centre's decision to cancel its Herald House lease

The Delhi High Court on Thursday reserved its order on the plea of the Associated Journals Ltd (AJL) challenging the Centre's decision to cancel its lease of the Herald House and order to vacate the premises on the grounds of allegedly violating its clauses. The court made its decision on the petition filed by AJL, which owns Congress mouthpiece National Herald, after hearing the concluding arguments of both sides.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

The high court had adjourned the hearing in the case on 15 November, saying that status quo should be maintained at the Herald House till the next hearing on Thursday (22 November). The National Herald is published from the Herald House, located in Delhi's ITO neighbourhood.

Justice Sunil Gaur's order came on a plea filed by AJL on 12 November, challenging the Centre's 30 October order for the Herald House to be vacated.

The AJL had alleged that the Centre was "illegally, unconstitutionally, arbitrarily and in a deliberate attempt" trying "to suppress and destroy the legacy of India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru". The Ministry of Urban Development had claimed that the Herald House's 56-year-old lease to AJL had ended and asked the company to vacate the premises by 15 November.

While hearing the petition on 15 November, AJL's counsel, senior advocate and Congress leader Abhishek M Singhvi, had told the Delhi High Court that two officials of the Land and Development Office had entered the National Herald premises. Representing the Centre, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had refuted the claim, saying he would look into it.

The court had said that the Land and Development Office could not take possession of the property in such a way and would have to follow proper procedure under the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act. The government had assured the court that it would not take possession of the Herald House, but that it wanted to initiate legal proceedings against having to vacate the building.

The AJL had told the high court that it had been publishing the National Herald for decades. It said publishing had been suspended temporarily due to financial trouble, but the newspaper and its digital media operations had fully resumed. The weekly 'National Herald on Sunday' resumed publication on 24 September, 2017. On 14 October, the AJL resumed its weekly Hindi newspaper, as well.

However, when the government reportedly inspected the premises a few months ago, it found that the area allotted to AJL had not been used to publish the newspaper for the past 10 years, the court was told. AJL, in turn, claimed that those who had come to inspect the site did not visit the rooms where the printing press was installed along with stocks of papers.

Countering the allegation related to Young Indian Pvt Ltd being a shareholder of AJL, Singhvi told the court that a change in shareholding does not mean that the property had been transferred to the company, and that AJL still owned the premises. He said AJL remains the leaseholder of the building, and that the addition of a new shareholder neither violates the clauses of the lease, nor is it the sale or transfer of the property.

UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi each own a 38 percent stake in Young Indian.


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Updated Date: Nov 22, 2018 16:44:03 IST

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