The Delhi High Court said Wednesday 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. A bench of Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice V K Rao was informed by the central government'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 January 15 after both the sides consented to it.
A single judge on December 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 high court had dismissed AJL's plea 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 levelled 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 years and it was being used only for commercial purposes in violation of the lease deed. The high court had said 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.
It is pertinent to mention that the Centre had contended before the court that transfer of 99 per cent stake in AJL to YI, when the latter bought the former's Rs 90 crore debt for a consideration of Rs 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 October 10, 2016. 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. 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 October this year from the same premises.