National Herald: Court adjourns hearing, orders to maintain status quo

New Delhi: Delhi High Court on Thursday ordered complete status quo to be maintained on all government actions against Herald House till November 22, the next date of hearing, in the matter related to eviction of National Herald from its present premises at Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg in New Delhi.

The plea against the eviction order was filed by Associated Journals Ltd (AJL), owner of National Herald newspaper, challenging the Centre’s decision, which had cancelled its lease and ordered it to vacate the Herald House on grounds of violation of lease clauses.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta gave assurance to the Delhi High Court that no action, no eviction (physical or notional), no possession or re-entry by the Government shall take place against Herald House while the Delhi High Court is seized of the matter.

The Delhi High Court on Thursday was hearing the plea of Associated Journals Ltd (AJL), the firm that owns National Herald newspaper, challenging the Centre’s decision which cancelled its lease and asked it to vacate Herald House by November 15 for violation of lease clauses.

AJL in the petition said that the government’s decision to cancel the lease is politically motivated and shutting down National Herald premises is a “deliberate attempt by the Central Government to suppress and destroy the legacy of first Prime Minister of the country Jawaharlal Nehru “.

“The impugned order is vitiated by malafide, biased and has been issued with oblique political motives. The proceedings have been initiated for the purposes of scuttling the voices of dissent and the voice of the largest opposition party in the country. It is a clear affront to the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a)of the Constitution and a deliberate attempt to suppress and destroy the legacy of the first Prime Minister of the country Jawaharlal Nehru, by the powers that be,” stated the AJL petition.

The petitioner said that AJL has been publishing a newspaper for the last several decades and that although there was a brief and temporary suspension period due to financial trouble the formal news paper and digital media operations had fully resumed. It was argued that the digital version of the newspaper National Herald in English had commenced from November 14, 2016 and on August 12, 2017, the digital version of Qaumi Awaz in Urdu commenced with Zafar Agha as Editor-in-Chief. The digital version of Navjivan in Hindi began on August 28, 2017 under the leadership of late Neelabh Mishra.

It was further argued that the hard print weekly newspaper National Herald on Sunday resumed from September 24, 2017 where it was explicitly stated that the place of publication was the premises. Similarly, AJL resumed printing of its weekly Hindi newspaper `Sunday Navjivan’ from October 14, 2018 where too it was explicitly stated that the place of publication was the premises. The petitioners added that there are further plans to launch newspapers in other languages including Urdu from Delhi and other centres during the next four quarters.

According to the Congress party’s legal team, Singhvi argued that the four grounds alleged by L&DO in their re-entry notice were malafide and did not constitute valid grounds for eviction under the lease. “The four grounds alleged by the Government are (i) non-printing of newspaper (ii) 84 sq. ft. photocopy shop (iii) electric panel room in rear of building (iv) shareholding in AJL of Section 25 Company, Young Indian,” Congress statement said.
He further stated that eviction proceedings against an 84 sq. ft. photocopy shop are ongoing in the civil court since a decade. Regarding the electrical panel room he stated that the building bylaws in Delhi require round the clock access for fire safety reasons.

He concluded his arguments stating that the lessee, AJL, remains the leaseholder of the building and that the addition of a new shareholder (762nd shareholder, namely Young Indian) does not in any way violate the lease conditions nor does it constitute sale or transfer of the property, the Congress legal cell said. It added that Singhvi finally argued that legal malice and malafide of the Government, to silence the voice of the National Herald, is writ large on the Government’s action and is contrary to law and a violation of the Constitutional right to freedom of expression.

The Congress legal team claimed that while the hearing was on, the Court was informed that two officers of the L&DO of the Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs had arrived at the physical premises of Herald House, 5A Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, New Delhi asking for possession of the building.

Later, speaking to the media, senior lawyer for AJL, Abhishek M Singhvi, said: “It is a malicious prosecution and impugned order vitiated by malafides and ulterior political