The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the Delhi High Court order asking The Associated Journals Limited, publisher of Congress mouthpiece National Herald, to vacate the Herald House building here.
Hearing the AJL’s plea against the February 28 order of the High Court, a bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna also issued a notice to the Centre’s Land and Development Office (L&DO) and asked it to reply in four weeks.
CJI Gogoi observed that the question which needs to be decided was whether there was a violation of the conditions of lease because of the transfer of shareholding.
Appearing for AJL, senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi sought a stay on the HC order.
The HC had held that the transfer of AJL shares to Young Indian company, in which Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi are majority shareholders, was a “clandestine and surreptitious transfer of the lucrative interest in the premises” to YI.
AJL has also sought setting aside of the Centre’s October 30, 2018 order ending its 56-year-old lease and asking it to vacate the premises in the absence of any printing or publishing activity and the building being used only for commercial purposes.
The High Court had on February 28 dismissed the AJL’s plea and said there was “misuse” of lease conditions. The AJL’s plea said that the ruling dispensation at the Centre has never hidden its pathological hatred for Nehruvian ideals. “One of their favourite propaganda is to blame Pandit Nehru for almost everything that ails the nation. The eviction proceedings constitute a malicious step in the larger design of defaming and effacing the legacy of Pandit Nehru,” it said.
The Centre and L&DO had said in the order that no press functioned for at least the past 10 years and the premises was being used only for commercial purposes in violation of the lease deed. AJL had denied the allegations.
The appeal in the top court said the determination of the lease deed is ex facie malicious, arbitrary, based on extraneous grounds, and has been effected for political considerations contrary to the express provisions of the lease deed itself.
AJL contended in its plea that many of the findings of the High Court were based on the Centre’s oral arguments and a list of dates handed over at the time of arguments without a single affidavit being placed on record by the official respondents.
The HC had agreed with the Centre’s submission that the breach continued since 2008 till the commencement of digital publication of the newspaper on November 14, 2016.
The L&DO had ended the lease, entered into with the AJL on August 2, 1962 and made perpetual on January 10, 1967, asking the company to hand over possession of the premises by November 15, 2018.