Associated Journals Ltd (AJL), publisher of Congress mouthpiece National Herald, was on Friday directed by the Delhi High Court to vacate its premises in the national capital within two weeks. The High Court dismissed AJL’s plea challenging the Centre’s order to vacate its premises.
The Centre and Land and Development Office (L&DO) have said in their order that no press has been functioning in the premises for at least past 10 years and it was being used only for commercial purposes in violation of the lease deed. AJL had denied the allegations in the petition filed in the high court. However, Justice Sunil Gaur rejected the contentions of the AJL challenging the Centre’s October 30 order ending its 56-year-old lease.
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 court had reserved its decision on AJL’s plea on November 22.
The Centre said that all the procedures have been followed to the hilt before issuing the notice. AJL had opposed the Centre’s stand, saying that publication of web editions began in 2016 and the issue of absence of printing press in the premises was not raised then.
It had said the government kept silent till April 2018 when it again sent a notice for inspection and in which it had said that it was coming to check breaches mentioned in notice of October 10, 2016.
AJL had also argued that several major papers carry out printing elsewhere. The court had earlier asked the government to maintain status quo with regard to enforcement of the October 30 order.
During the arguments, the Centre had contended that transfer of 98 per cent stake in AJL to Young Indian (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.
In its petition, the AJL has alleged that the proceedings were being initiated for the purposes of “scuttling the voices of dissent” and the voice of the largest opposition party in the country, a reference to the Congress.
Without naming the BJP, the AJL alleged that the order was issued under pressure and directives from the ruling party at the Centre is vitiated by mala fide, bias and had “oblique political motives”.
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.