Significant simultaneous developments took place on Thursday in cases pertaining to Sonia and Rahul Gandhi-owned Associated Journals Limited (AJL), the publisher of the National Herald newspaper. On one hand, the Delhi High Court did not stay the eviction order issued by the Centre for New Delhi's Herald House, and on the other, as per sources, the Haryana Governor gave sanction for the prosecution of former Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda.
The Herald Scam is a scam with 2 aspects and one that seems to be unfolding in two locations-- in New Delhi at the Herald House and in Panchkula in Haryana. Whether the extent of the scam will spiral and spread beyond these two locations, only time will tell.
Simply, the Herald Scam refers to the alleged misuse of the Herald House in New Delhi for commercial purposes and the alleged dubious allotment of a plot of land in Panchkula, Haryana, to Associated Journals Limited (AJL).
Herald House is a property located in the plush Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg in New Delhi.
In 1962-63, AJL was allotted land at concessional rates to build up a 5-storey building for the purpose of setting up a press along with offices. In 1967, subsequent to a request by AJL, additional premium at market rate was paid and a perpetual lease was executed so that only the basement and the first floor of the building were to be used for press and offices. As per the perpetual lease, the remainder of the said floors could be let out to “other commercial concerns”. Once again, on 7th January 2013, on the request of AJL the perpetual lease was modified so that instead of the basement and the first floor, the basement and any one floor of the building could be used for press and offices.
With that context, the present allegation in the public domain is that Herald House was not used for the primary use of “printing press and related purpose”.
In June 2018, a show cause notice was issued to the Chairman of AJL stating “if the premises is not being used for the primary use of printing press and related purpose, the renting out of the premises itself becomes misuse of allotted land”. It also claimed that the “misuses/unauthorised construction done by AJL are in violation” of the lease terms.
The allegation against Herald House stems from the fact that a committee was formed on April 9, 2018, comprising of officers from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs who inspected the premises and observed that “no printing press was functioning at any floor of the premises and no paper stock was found anywhere”.
Earlier on Thursday, the Land and Development Office personnel reached Herald House to commence eviction proceedings. Almost simultaneously, the matter came up in the Delhi High Court. While Congress’ Abhishek Manu Singhvi appeared for AJL, the Delhi High Court refused to stay the eviction order. The Delhi High Court also said that the Government will not be able to take physical possession of Herald House while the matter is pending in Court.
So the question being asked is, was Herald House being used by Congress-linked AJL in the name of a press operation to profit on prime property worth crores in the national capital?
As significant, in the Herald Scam are the allegations against former Haryana Chief Minister BS Hooda who is also a senior Congressmen.
The allegation is that the former Chief Minister of Haryana and Senior Congressmen BS Hooda allegedly ignored rules and misused his official position to re-allot a Panchkula plot of land to AJL in 2005 at the rates of land in 1982.
To put this context, AJL got an over 3000 sq meter plot of land in Panchkula, Haryana, from the Haryana Government in 1982. The reason for the concessional land being given to AJL was, again, for the purpose of press. Despite a decade elapsing, no construction had begun on the said land by AJL and so in 1992 the plot was taken back by the Haryana Government.
Interestingly, between 1992 and 1996, AJL reportedly made multiple appeals seeking re-allotment of the plot of land, only for the appeals to be rejected.
However, in 2005, as BS Hooda as Chief Minister of Haryana and as the ex-officio Chairman of the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA) allegedly misused his official position to re-allot the plot to AJL and caused "wrongful gain" to it. This then allegedly resulted in a loss to the state exchequer.
So the question being asked is, was Hooda as Chief Minister of Haryana almost gifting land worth over Rs. 100 crore to Congress-linked AJL at 1982 rates in 2005? And the question that arises thereof is, was a Congress Chief Minister using his office to wrongly benefit a Congress-linked company of which Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi eventually became directors?
On Thursday morning, Republic TV confirmed from top sources that the Haryana Governor had given sanction to prosecute BS Hooda in the case. This effectively means that the probing authorities can now proceed with their criminal investigation against the former Chief Minister.
AJL was eventually procured by Young Indian Limited-- a company in which Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi are Directors.
The bigger question being asked is whether this model wherein Congress-linked companies were allegedly getting land at concessional rates for the sake of running a press but without any operation runs beyond New Delhi and Haryana.
Interestingly, there seems to be a pattern between the Herald Scam and the alleged wrongful allocation of land to Robert Vadra’s firm in Haryana. The allegation against Vadra’s Skylight Hospitality is that they procured land at throwaway prices while BS Hooda was Chief Minister of Haryana. This land was then allegedly sold to DLF in an allegedly sweetheart deal.
While the Enforcement Directorate is presently probing the Panchkula plot of land which has thrown up BS Hooda’s name and the sanction to prosecute the former Chief Minister has been given by the Haryana Governor, the Herald House matter is ongoing in the Delhi High Court.
On Thursday, reacting to the allegations against him, BS Hooda said, “This is all political vendetta, this is already stated this is not new, this is politically motivated.” “There is nothing wrong in what I did, this is politically motivated. I have full faith in the judiciary,” he added.