National Herald

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Herald case, points court focused on (as on 8 Dec 2015); Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, December 9, 2015

This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.


Historical vignettes

The Times of India

National Herald’s 7 properties;Graphic courtesy: The Times of India Dec 20 2015

Alok Sharma

Anser Kidwai, then editor of National Herald, can't forget his November 19, 1985 meeting with Rajiv Gandhi at 7 Race Course Road. “He told Yashpal Kapoor (managing director), Aaj tumhare akhbaar mein date galat nikli hai.“ Rajiv was referring to the caption for his mother's photograph. It said 69th birth anniversary instead of 68th.

Five decades after Jawaharlal Nehru launched the newspaper, popularly called voice of India during the freedom struggle, the NehruGandhi family's passion with Herald had somewhat subsided. Gone were the days when Nehru came to Herald's Lucknow office late in the evening to file a report or write an editorial. But the family was still involved. After all, it had earned a new sobriquet: Voice of Congress.

The slide in Herald's fortunes began during the later years of its longest-serving editor M Chalapathi Rau, known for criticising Congress CMs of UP , Govind Ballabh Pant and Dr Sampurnanand, in scathing editorials, before and after Independence. “Rau was an institution, constantly at war with UP's Congress governments.Nehru never intervened,“ recalls Kidwai, 87, who started his career with Herald in 1955 at a monthly stipend of Rs 80.

Everything changed with the 1969 Congress split. The Syndicate ganging up against Indira in 1969 became the turning point. This was when Rau apparently told a bureau meeting: “We have to support her (Indira). She's under attack from all sides (Congressmen and media)“. Kidwai, then a special correspondent covering Congress, got specific instructions. “Rau told me -Now, we have to become a campaign paper,“ he says.

Even then, the Gandhis never interfered, although the MDs treated them as their bosses. Another MD, Rameshwar Thakur, who became Union minister and governor, referred to Rajiv as `netaji' at meetings. Once the Rau era got over in the late 1970s, the MDs requested editors to receive leaders close to the Gandhis when they visited Herald House. When Rau held office, he didn't stir out of his room when Indira came visiting. The GM showed her around.

Old-timers say one reason for Herald's decline was its over-emphasis on the editorial page and not reportage. “Rau never pulled up a reporter if he missed a story, but would say: But I already talked about that in my editorial,“ Kidwai recalls, adding that in the 1960s, the readership of Rau's editorials was over 10,000, a remarkable feat.

The National Herald case, a backgrounder: 1; Graphic courtesy: The Times of IndiaDec 20 2015

M Rama Rao, who joined Herald as bureau chief in 1998 recalls former CAG and BJP MP T N Chaturvedi hailing Herald's edit page at a Delhi event saying reading Herald was recommended to those taking civil services exams. Herald isn't remembered for exclusives, and often missed deadlines. Veterans recall how by the time Herald's special supplement on the 1992 AICC Tirupati plenary was published, the event was folding up.

When Rama Rao quit in 2006, editorial strength in Delhi had dropped to 20, the poorly paid staff worked on typewriters, and management never addressed distribution issues. From 25,000 in the 1970s, the Delhi edition's circulation dropped to 1,000 in 2006, two years before it folded up, says Rama Rao.

Allegations of favouritism; legal troubles

2001-10: Maharashtra government largesse

The Times of India, Dec 11 2015

3 govt communications expose largesse to Associated Journals

Three communications from the Maharashtra government over a period of 10 years to Associated Journals Ltd (AJL), which owned the National Herald, show how the company benefitted from government largesse and got away without paying the bulk of the Rs 3.26 crore for the land it occupies in Bandra.

The National Herald case, a backgrounder: 2; Graphic courtesy: The Times of IndiaDec 20 2015

In 2010, when AJL sent a demand draft of Rs 31.77 lakh to the suburban collector as part payment for the Bandra plot allotted to it, the DD was returned. In the accompanying letter the collector's office said that through two memorandums issued in 2001 and 2005, the state government had decided to charge only occupancy price for the plot. An order to this effect was issued by the collector's office in 2006. It also said that the occupancy price of Rs 98.17 lakh had been paid and so the draft was being returned. Back in 2001, the collector's office in a report mentioned that the organisation owed the govern mentRs 3.76 crore as payment for occupancy and interest for delay in payment.AshokChavan was the revenue minister then.

AJL was allotted a 34,000 sqft plot reserved for “backward class hostel“ abutting the Western Express Highway in Bandra (east) in 1983.

The plot was allotted for a newspaper office, a Nehru memorial library and a research centre. Thirty years after the initial lease expired, only a four-storey under-construction building stands on the site. It was in 2013, towards the end of the lease, that the BMC sanctioned an 11-storey building. An NOC was obtained from the Airports Authority of India only in 2014.

2011: Young Indian’s takeover of AJL created problems

Pradeep Thakur, November 14, 2018: The Times of India

The income tax case against Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi, in which they moved the Supreme Court on Tuesday, stems from the 2011 takeover of Associated Journals Ltd (AJL), the publisher of National Herald, by a newly incorporated company, Young Indian, for which the government had slapped a hefty tax demand.

The Gandhis moved the SC after the Delhi HC allowed the I-T department to reopen their tax returns filed for the 2011-12 assessment year.

In December 2017, the I-T department had passed an assessment order against Young Indian, incorporated on November 23, 2010, by Sonia, Rahul, Motilal Vora and Oscar Fernandes, cancelling its tax exemption. The I-T department found that the company was “engaged in activities which are non-charitable in nature”.

The department found that three months after the company was incorporated, in February 2011, 99% shares of AJL, which owned property across India worth over Rs 414 crore, were allotted to Young Indian. Interestingly, the officebearers of AJL that transferred all rights to YI, through a loan exchange pact, included Vora and Fernandes. The I-T assessment order claimed the “objective of the scheme to earn the benefit of the business asset of AJL was fulfilled within a short period of three months by takeover of AJL”.

While cancelling its tax exemption, the department has assessed Young Indian’s taxable income at Rs 414.40 crore for 2011-12. That year, YI had filed its returns with nil income, and its directors and shareholders too had shown no gain from the company, an issue now being disputed by the I-T department.

AJL owns commercial property in Delhi, Patna, Panchkula, Mumbai and Lucknow, acquired at a concessional rate from central and state governments for publishing newspapers.

Officials associated with the I-T assessment said they found that AJL had as early as 2008 decided to stop publishing newspapers. Many of its properties were later commercially used.

“If these properties were to be purchased by a commercial entity, it would have had to pay hundreds of crores to AJL along with payment of substantial capital gain tax by AJL,” a source said.

In its assessment order, the I-T department said senior Congress leaders devised a “scheme” to transfer all assets of AJL, which had taken a loan of Rs 90 crore from Congress, to YI by allowing the latter to purchase all liabilities of AJL from the Congress for a paltry sum of Rs 50 lakh.

“The assigning of loan owned by AJL to Young Indian by Congress is an adventure in the nature of trade and defined u/s 2(13) of the I-T Act,” the source said.

Herald rethink takes The Family to SC: Feb 2016

The Times of India, Feb 05 2016

Dhananjay Mahapatra

Herald rethink takes The Family to SC

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi moved the Supreme Court seeking quashing of the trial court order summoning them as accused in the controversial transfer of National Herald shares by Associated Journals Ltd (AJL) to the Gandhis-controlled Young Indian Ltd (YIL).

It signalled a clear change of mind from the earlier decision to appear before the trial court on December 19 following dismissal of their petitions by the Delhi HC on December 7. The two top Congress members, who are on bail, decided to move the SC questioning the legality of the summoning order and terming the HC order dismissing their pleas as erroneous, fallacious and exceeding jurisdiction.

Pending their plea in the SC for quashing of the entire case, they sought stay of trial and exemption from personal appearance before the trial court, which had issued summons to them on June 26, 2014 on a criminal complaint by BJP member Subramanian Swamy alleging that AJL shares worth more than Rs 90 crore were fraudulently transferred to YIL virtually for a song.

Others who moved the SC along with the Gandhis seeking similar relief are Suman Dubey and Sam Pitroda, also summoned as accused in the same case. Sonia said she had “deep roots in society and is also the president of Congress party since 1998 and has served as chairperson of the UPA government in Lok Sabha“. She argued that she would suffer irreparable injury if the summoning order and trial against her were not stayed.

The Gandhis' petition, drawn up by advocate Devadatt Kamat and settled by senior lawyer Kapil Sibal, was critical of the HC judgment and said the judge misunderstood “financial assistance and consented takeover“ of AJL by YIL as a “financial fraud“.

The Congress brass said AJL had a “historical and emotive bond“ with Congress since its inception in 1937. “Due to financial difficulties and losses suffered by AJL over several decades, loans had been given by Congress to AJL from time to time amounting to approximately Rs 90 crore,“ they said.

To revive the financially tottering AJL, financial experts Bansi S Mehta and Yezdi H Malegam were engaged and they suggested an action plan. Accordingly , YIL was floated as a firm under Section 25 of the Companies Act in November 2010, they said.

On December 28, 2010, AICC and YIL signed a final deed of assignment “under which the interest-free loan gi ven to AJL amounting to Rs 90.21 crore was assigned to YIL... by AICC for a monetary consideration of Rs 50 lakh,“ they said, adding that AJL shareholders had endorsed the transfer on January 21, 2011.

The Gandhis said questioning this lawful transfer, Swamy filed a “false, vexa tious and politically motiva ted complaint“ despite being a third-party having the sole intention of unleashing “political vendetta to harass and cause harm“ to them.

They said the trial court issued summons to them on June 26, 2014 without appreciating that none of the ingredients of an offence had been made out. The single judge of the HC too committed the same mistake and unwarrantedly added comments to prejudice the petitioners' case, they said.

“The HC holds that the actions of the accused `smacks of criminality'. But in the same breath holds that `what species of criminal offence is made out is not required to be seen at this initial stage',“ the Gandhis said, adding that “this approach is untenable in law“.

Shut in 2008, NH revived online in 2016

TRIBUTE TO NEHRU - National Herald revived in digital form, Nov 15 2016 : The Times of India

Defunct Congress party organ National Herald returned to news market in digital form, with the organisation promising to bring out its print edition soon to complete it as a multi-media outlet.

The Associated Journals Limited, which has been mired in legal hassles over the cheating case filed by BJP MP Subramanian Swamy , announced the launch of The launch came on the birth anniversary of first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who was also the founder of National Herald.

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi called the relaunch a befitting tribute to Nehru.

The company said during its halcyon days even after Independence, the National Herald group of newspapers, including Navjivan in Hindi and Quami Awaz in Urdu, lent its influential voice to the efforts of building a nation striving for world peace and imbued with rationality that its founder had inculcated.

Congress had shut the journals associated with National Herald in April 2008 over continuing financial losses.

Delhi HC verdict: 2018

Delhi HC asks AJL to vacate Herald House

Abhinav Garg, December 22, 2018: The Times of India

In a setback to Congress, Delhi high court ordered Associated Journals, the publisher of National Herald, to vacate its premises in Herald House within two weeks. Justice Sunil Gaur also described as “questionable” the takeover of AJL by Young Indian (YI), a company in which Congress president Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi are majority shareholders.

Giving AJL two weeks to vacate, the court said that by transferring 99% of AJL’s shares to YI, the beneficial interest of AJL’s property worth Rs 413 crore was “clandestinely transferred” to YI.

The Centre had said no press had been functioning at the ITO premises for 10 years and it was used for commercial purposes in violation of the lease deed. The court dismissed AJL’s plea challenging the Centre’s order to vacate its premises and end the 56-year lease.

AJL hijacked by Young Indian Co, premises misused: Court

AJL has been hijacked by Young Indian Company, which brings the instant case within the purview of Clause III

(13) of the lease-deed of the subject premises,” the court said, agreeing with the Centre’s claim that premises were being misused. Justice Gaur noted that the “dominant purpose” for which the building was leased to AJL was “practically lost”.

“...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,” the court observed. If AJL does not vacate the premises within two weeks, proceedings will be initiated under the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1971, it said.

On AJL’s allegation that the eviction order was issued by the BJP-led Centre to destroy the legacy of former PM Jawaharlal Nehru, who founded the paper, Justice Gaur said, “One fails to understand how the ruling dispensation has in any way erased, effaced or defamed Pandit Nehru.” He added, “Allegations of mala fide are preposterous and no note of these allegations is required to be taken as they are bald and unspecific.”

Justice Gaur said he was “conscious of the fact that Young Indian is a charitable company, but the modus operandi to acquire 99% of AJL’s shares speaks volumes”.

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