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Delhi High Court: A Single Judge Bench comprising of Sunil Gaur, J. dismissed a writ petition filed by Associated Journals Ltd. against the order of Land and Development Office whereby it decided to re-enter into the premises allotted to AJL.

AJL, an unlisted public company was incorporated in 1937 that published the newspaper, National Herald. In 1962-63, a premises 5-A, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, New Delhi was allotted to AJL which is its registered office. As per a Perpetual Lease Deed of 1967, the premises was to be used by AJL for construction of a 5-storied building for the bona fide purpose of running press. In 2013, AJL was permitted to use four floors to let out to commercial concerns. Subsequently, it came to notice of the Land and Development Office (respondent) that no press was functioning in the premises for four years and it was being used mainly for commercial purposes. The respondent inspected the premises after which Breach Notice was sent to AJL in 2016. To confirm the present status, the premises was again inspected in April 2018. After receiving AJL’s reply on the show-cause notice issued, the respondent passed the impugned order wherein it decided to re-enter the premises; and if the possession of the premises was not handed over by AJL, necessary action under Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1971 for their eviction would be taken. Aggrieved thereby, AJL filed the present petition.

Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Senior Advocate argued for AJL and Tushar Mehta, Solicitor General of India represented the respondent.

The High Court observed that AJL made bald and unspecific allegations of Mala fide action by the respondent. Such allegations were termed preposterous and no note of them was taken. As for the merits of the case, the Court held that respondent’s action followed principles of natural justice. Report of Inspection Committee was considered and found that no press activity was discernible at the premises. Petitioners not even disclosed the volume of publication of their newspaper National Herald. It was stated, “The subject premises was leased out to legendary AJL for its publication, but the dominant purpose is now practically lost. This Court is constrained  to observe that major portion of the ‘subject premises’ has been rented out and petitioners’ newspaper, which was to be housed originally in the basement and ground floor, has now been shifted on the top floor with hardly any press activity.” Observation was also made against the manner in which 99% shares of AJL were transferred to Young India Co. whose shareholders include Indian National Congress President Rahul Gandhi and former President Sonia Gandhi. After considering the record on merits, the Court held that respondent was entitled to invoke provisions of PP Act to evict AJL if did not hand over possession of the premises within two weeks. [Associated Journals Ltd. v. Land and Development Office, 2018 SCC OnLine Del 13060, dated 21-12-2018]