The Delhi High Court today dismissed National Herald publisher AJL’s plea against the order to vacate its premises.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice VK Rao on February 18 has announced the decision after hearing arguments of the Centre and Associated Journals Ltd. (AJL).
During the arguments earlier, AJL, represented by senior advocate Abhishek M Singhvi, had said that 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 here.
The Centre, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, had argued that in 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.
AJL has appealed against the single judge’s December 21, 2018 order that directed it to vacate the premises at ITO within two weeks, after which eviction proceedings under the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1971, would be initiated.
The single judge had also said that by transfer of AJL’s 99 per cent shares to YI, the beneficial interest of AJL’s property worth Rs 413.40 crore stands “clandestinely” transferred to YI.
In its order, the single judge had said that AJL has been “hijacked” by YI, in which the Gandhis are shareholders.
The Centre had contended before the court that transfer of 99 per cent stake in AJL to YI, which bought over the Rs 90 crore debt for a consideration of Rs 50 lakh, led to a “virtual” sale of the Herald building at ITO.
The December order had come on AJL’s plea challenging the Centre’s order to vacate the building.
The Centre had ended its 56-year-old lease and asked AJL to vacate the premises, saying no printing or publishing activity was going on and the building was being used only for commercial purposes.
The L&DO had ended the lease – entered into with AJL on August 2, 1962 and made perpetual on January 10, 1967 – asking the company to hand over the possession by November 15, 2018.
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, 2017, and the place of publication was the ITO premises, AJL said, adding that the Hindi weekly newspaper Sunday Navjivan was being published since October last year from the same premises.