A bench of Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice V K Rao rejected the appeal of Associated Journals Ltd (AJL) in which it had challenged the Centre’s decision asking it to vacate the ITO premises.
“We have dismissed the appeal,” the bench said.
It also rejected the oral request of AJL’s counsel that they be granted two week’s time to vacate the premises.
AJL had 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 Young India (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 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.
During the arguments earlier, AJL, represented by senior advocate Abhishek M Singhvi, had said transfer of the company’s majority shares to YI would not make Congress President Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi the owners of the Herald building here.
He 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 argued that 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.
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 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 had 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 the Hindi weekly newspaper Sunday Navjivan was being published since October last year from the same premises.