In a huge setback to Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, the Delhi High Court on Tuesday ordered the eviction of Herald House, the headquarters of National Herald newspaper within two weeks, dismissing the petition filed by the publisher Associated Journals Limited(AJL). Finding no irregularity in the Urban Development Ministry’s Land and Development Office (L & DO), the Judgment said that there was total violation in the lease agreement by the publisher who was holding the building for the past 56 years and also said that the AJL’s take over by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi floated new firm Young Indian was also “questionable” “modus operandi.”
“The ‘subject premises’ was leased out to legendary AJL for its publication, but the dominant purpose is now practically lost. This Court is constrained to observe that major portion of the ‘subject premises’ has been rented out and petitioners’ newspaper, which was to be housed originally in the basement and ground floor, has now been shifted on the top floor with hardly any ‘press activity,” said the 17 page Judgment of Justice Sunil Gaur.
“This Court is conscious of the fact that Young India Company is a charitable company, but modus operandi to acquire 99% of AJL’s share speaks volumes. The manner in which it has been done is also questionable,” said the Judgment. At present AJL, which is literally owned by Sonia and Rahul controlled firm Young Indian is earning around Rs.80 lakh per month from 2011 by renting out two floors to Passport Seva Kendra.
Observing that there was no wrong in eviction notice, the Judgment also said that petitioner’s contention that the Government move was to erase, efface and defame the legacy of Pandit Nehru was not at all acceptable. “One fails to understand as to how the ruling dispensation has in any way erased, effaced, or defamed Pt. Nehru… the allegations of malafide leveled by petitioners are bald and unspecific and so, no note of these allegations taken,” said the Judgment
The AJL approached the High Court after the L & DO issued eviction notice on October 30, based on the complaint filed by Subramanian Swamy, BJP leader and petitioner in the main case. AJ was represented by Congress leader and noted lawyer Abhishek Singhvi and Government was represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta. The court had reserved its decision on AJL’s plea on November 22.
The High Court said AJL will have to vacate the premises at ITO here within two weeks after which proceedings under the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupants) Act, 1971 would be initiated.
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 that failure to hand over possession would lead to initiation of proceedings under the Public Premises Act.
In its plea, AJL has also said that the digital versions of English newspaper National Herald, Hindi’s Navjivan and Urdu’s Qaumi Awaz have commenced since 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.
Later in the evening, welcoming the judgment, the Urban Development Ministry said that “It was found by the inspecting team of the Ministry on April 09, 2018 that no printing press was functioning at any floor of the premises and no paper stock was found anywhere.”
“In earlier inspections also, the basement where Press machine should have been, was found vacant. Further, it was also found that almost all shares of AJL were transferred to ‘Young Indian Ltd’ having same address as that of AJL without any permission of the Ministry. As per a report of Income Tax Department, in Young Indian Ltd., majority of shares (76%) are held by the Gandhi family and the rest by Shri Motilal Vora and Shri Oscar Fernandes. It was also observed that instead of using the land given to AJL for Press purpose, they are earning a huge sum of money by renting out almost entire building except one floor which has negated the purpose for which the land was originally allotted,” said the Ministry in a statement.
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