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No eviction from National Herald offices till Nov 22: Centre to Delhi HC

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New Delhi: The Centre on Thursday gave an oral assurance to the Delhi High Court that it will maintain status quo till November 22 in the land lease matter of Associated Journals Ltd (AJL), publisher of the National Herald newspaper.

The assurance by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who was representing the Land and Development Office (L&DO), came after Justice Sunil Gaur said he will hear the matter another day and the Centre shall maintain status quo till then.

The court listed the matter for further hearing on November 22.

The publisher had approached the high court on November 12 challenging the October 30 order of the Urban Development Ministry, ending its 56-year-old lease and asking it to vacate the premises in the press enclave at ITO here by November 15.

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for AJL, said status quo should mean that possession should not be taken and no proceedings under the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupants) Act, 1971, should be initiated till then.

To this, the court said "obviously" and added that "when the matter is sub-judiced, then that much courtesy they need to show to the court".

On November 13, when the matter had come up for hearing, the court said there is no urgency in the plea and it would hear it on November 15 as it had not received the case file from the registry.

The Centre's counsel had earlier said they were initiating the process and if AJL does not hand over the possession of the premises to them they will re-enter.

The petition, filed through advocates Sunil Fernandes and Priyansha Indra Sharma, sought quashing of the L&DO's order on the grounds that it was "illegal, unconstitutional, arbitrary, tainted with malafide and without authority and jurisdiction".

"The petitioner (AJL) has been in lawful possession of the demised premises for the last 56 years (since 1962) and the respondent (Centre) vide the impugned order, seek to dispossess the petitioner and re-enter the premises...," it said.

It also said the Centre has warned them of action under the PP Act, if they failed to vacate the premises. One of the grounds mentioned in the L&DO order is that no press has been functioning in the premises for last at least 10 years and that it is being used only for commercial purposes in violation of the lease deed.

This allegation has been refuted by the AJL in the petition filed by the firm and its company secretary. "The requirement of running a press cannot mean that all press and printing-related activities have to necessarily be conducted at the same premises, that is, demised premises. The imperatives of prudent commercial business operations may necessitate that the petitioner company utilise the infrastructure or the premises at some other place as a supplement to their operations in the present demised premises," the plea said.

According to the petition, AJL initially received a show cause notice from L&DO in June this year which was based on an inspection carried out in April. It claimed that the inspection was not conducted to ascertain whether there was any printing activity at the premises.

The AJL gave a detailed reply to the notice on July 16 and October 9, saying printing activity was carried out by it over the last several decades and also as on the date of issuance of the notice, it said.

As per the petition, the digital versions of English newspaper 'National Herald', Hindi's 'Navjivan' and Urdu's 'Qaumi Awaz' have commenced since 2016-17.

The weekly newspaper 'National Herald on Sunday' resumed from September 24 last year and the place of publication was the ITO premises, the petition claimed, and added that the Hindi weekly newspaper 'Sunday Navjivan' was also being published since October this year from the same premises.

"The necessary licenses and authorisations for the purposes of publication were also placed on record, in particular, the necessary licenses have been obtained by the petitioner (AJL)," it said.
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