New Delhi, Feb 28 (IANS) The Delhi High Court on Thursday reiterated that the Associated Journals Ltd (AJL), publisher of the National Herald newspaper, has to vacate its Herald House premises here.
Hearing the AJL’s challenge to the Centre’s decision asking it to vacate the building, a Division Bench of Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice V. Kameswar Rao rejected its plea and directed it to vacate the building on the Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg at ITO.
“We have no hesitation in holding that the entire transaction of transferring the shares of AJL to Young Indian was nothing but, as held by the learned writ court, a clandestine and surreptitious transfer of the lucrative interest in the premises to Young Indian,” the court said, adding that it “only indicates the dishonest and fraudulent design behind such transaction”.
The AJL had challenged the December 21 order of a single judge bench that dismissed its plea against the Urban Development Ministry, which on October 30, 2018, had said that AJL’s 56-year-old lease on Herald House has ended and it must vacate.
The division bench upheld the single judge bench order saying that it has not seen any reason to make any indulgence into a reasonable order passed by the court earlier in the facts and circumstances of the present case.
“We find that in this case the finding with regard to no press activity being carried out in the premises for about ten years, misuse of land and 100 per cent transfer of shares to another company are all subject matters of four notices issued to the petitioner (AJL),” the court said.
“The petitioner submitted voluminous documents and replies to these notices which made allegations of unauthorized construction, unauthorized permission to Akash Gift Gallery, clandestine transfer for ulterior motive etc. and the petitioners had in fact admitted the position with regard to there being no press activity and admitted non-publication of the newspaper due to financial trouble for more than eight years.”
The court noted that the press was installed, a licence obtained and publication commenced after September 24, 2017.
“If all these factors are taken note of and a decision is taken by the respondents to say that the dominant purpose for which the lease was granted has been violated and there has been misuse of the conditions of the lease, in the absence of mala fides or ulterior motive having been established, the writ court has rightly refused to interfere into the matter,” the court said.
The Centre had requested the court to dismiss the appeal saying that Young Indian company, in which Congress President Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi are shareholders, was formed with an intention to take over the Herald House.
The single judge bench, in its order on December 21, had 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.
However, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi defended AJL and denied the allegations.
He also told the court that the digital version of the newspaper was started on November 14, 2016, while the publication of weekly “National Herald on Sunday” was resumed on September 24, 2017.
The government has said that National Herald was revived only after the Centre sent a notice for inspection of the property in September 2016.