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Delhi HC reserves verdict on plea by National Herald publisher


New Delhi, Feb 18: The Delhi High Court on Monday reserved verdict on a plea by National Herald publisher AJL challenging a single judge direction to vacate the premises in Delhi, arguing that transfer of shares to YI, in which Congress Chief Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi are shareholders, won't make them the building's owners.

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A bench of Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice V K Rao reserved its decision after Associated Journals Ltd concluded its arguments.

The court also asked AJL and the Centre's lawyers to file their written submissions in three days.

During the over an hour long hearing, AJL, represented by senior advocate Abhishek M Singhvi, reiterated the argument that transfer of the company's majority shares to Young India (YI) would not make Gandhis the owners of the Herald building.

Singhvi also contended that the Centre never raised the issue of lack of printing activity at the Herald building prior to June 2018, by when publishing of some of its online editions had already commenced.

The Centre, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, had earlier 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.

The government had contended that the land in question was allocated to AJL on lease for printing press and this "dominant purpose" was stopped several years ago.

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.


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