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AJL approaches Delhi HC to retain press enclave premises

AJL approaches Delhi HC to retain press enclave premises
"In doing so, the single judge has displayed unwarranted haste, uncalled for in the facts and circumstances of the present case," it added.

Associated Journals Ltd (AJL), the publisher of National Herald newspaper, has approached the Delhi High Court challenging a single judge order asking it to vacate the premises in press enclave at ITO here. It has also sought a stay on the operation of single judge's December 21, 2018 order. Advocate Sunil Fernandes, representing the AJL, said the appeal was filed on Saturday evening and it is likely to come up for hearing on January 9.

The high court had dismissed the AJL's plea challenging the Centre's order to vacate its premises by holding that the publisher of the National Herald has not provided any instances to support the serious allegations of malafide levelled against the ruling dispensation. It had said AJL will have to vacate the ITO premises within two weeks after which eviction proceedings under the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupants) Act, 1971, would be initiated.

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. "Considering the factual nature, legal complexities and voluminous issues raised in the writ petition, it was indeed appropriate that the single judge ought to have issued formal notice and asked the respondent to place their say formally by way of an counter/reply affidavit rather taking documents across the bar and then proceed to in limine dismiss the writ petition," the appeal, filed through Priyansha Indra Sharma, said.

"In doing so, the single judge has displayed unwarranted haste, uncalled for in the facts and circumstances of the present case," it added. 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.

AJL had denied the allegations in the petition filed in the high court. 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. "In fact, AJL has been hijacked by Young Indian Company, which brings the instant case within the purview of Clause III(13) of the Lease-Deed of 'the subject premises'," the court had said.

It is pertinent to mention that the Centre had earlier 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 that 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 the 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.

(With inputs from agencies.)

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