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Priyanka land deal: HC stays directive of Himachal Information Commission

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By NewsGram Staff Writer

The Himachal Pradesh High Court on Tuesday stayed a directive of the state information commission to the government to provide information about the land purchase by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s daughter Priyanka Vadra near this popular hill station.

A division bench comprising Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan and Justice P.S. Rana observed that “prima facie, the plea of the petitioner (Vadra) is acceptable”.

Listing the case for next hearing on August 7, the bench said the information commission “has not interpreted rightly” Section 8(1)(g) of the Right to Information (RTI) Act that speaks about the disclosure of information which would endanger the life or physical safety of any person or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purposes.

Vadra’s counsel challenged the information commission’s June 29 order that directed the deputy commissioner of Shimla to provide within 10 days details about the land purchased by Priyanka Vadra.

“Provide information about Priyanka Vadra’s land deal at Mashobra (near Shimla) within 10 days to an RTI activist. The decision to impose penalty on the officials who failed to provide information within stipulated timeframe would be decided on July 23,” the commission had said.

The order by the high court bench came after an application by RTI activist Devashish Bhattacharya came up for hearing.

The information under the RTI Act was sought in July 2014, but was denied by the Shimla deputy commissioner saying Priyanka Vadra was a high-profile person and providing information could have a direct bearing on her security provided by the Special Protection Group.

The information commission had also issued a show-cause notice to the deputy commissioner and others as to why penalty should not be imposed on them for not providing the information.

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National Herald Scam: Everything You Need To Know

A real life 'hera-pheri' done by top politicians of the Indian National Congress, as alleged by Subramanian Swamy

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National Herald was a newspaper, it's publishing rights were with AJL before Young Indian took over.
National Herald was a newspaper, it's publishing rights were with AJL before Young Indian took over.

BY SHANTAM SAHAI

  • Indian National Congress lends Rs 90 crores to AJL, with no interest
  • AJL transfers all the shares with the Rs 90 crores debt to Young Indian, in return for Rs 50 lakhs
  • Subramanian Swamy files a private complaint in a court in Delhi, to uncover what is being investigated as the ‘National Herald Scam’

National Herald scam is a case that put the Indian National Congress under the public scanner, with Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi being in the spotlight, it involves other names such as Motilal Vora. All of it started on 1st November 2012 when BJP’s Subramanian Swamy filed a private complaint (a crusade against corruption) in a court in Delhi. He alleged criminal misappropriation by the Gandhis. According to Swamy, the Gandhis had committed fraud by illegally acquiring a public limited company, Associated Journals Limited (AJL) through Young Indian, a private limited owned by them.

The case came out as a conspiracy to amass wealth by exerting influence in the Indian National Congress and fooling the shareholders of AJL. Even though Rahul Gandhi called it a ‘political vendetta’, he surely didn’t expect Swamy would be able to connect all the dots and reach a conclusion of ‘why would the Congress party lend a loan of Rs 90 crore (with no interest) to AJL?’

ALSO READ: National Herald case: Sonia, Rahul may seek bail if needed

What is Associated Journals Limited (AJL)?

It is an unlisted public limited, incorporated on 20th November 1937. Its registered office is Herald House, 5-A, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, New Delhi. Even though it was an idea of Jawaharlal Nehru, he never owned AJL. It was started with the support of 5000 freedom fighters who became shareholders. AJL’s initial capital was Rs 5 lakh, which was divided into 2,000 preferential shares each worth Rs 100 and 30,000 equity shares worth Rs 10 each.

Motilal Vora (also the treasurer of the Indian National Congress) was the chairman and managing director of the company since 2002.  The company commanded publishing rights of the National Herald newspaper. It also owned various real estate properties which were estimated to be around Rs 5000 crore. AJL had incurred huge losses before it was transferred to Young Indian in 2011.

What is Young Indian?

It is a private limited which was incorporated on 23rd November 2010 with a capital of Rs 5 lakh. Its registered office too, was 5-A, Herald House, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, New Delhi. The company’s 76% shares are held by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi (who are also in the board of directors), whereas the rest are held by Motilal Vora and Oscar Fernandes, another Congress leader.

The judicial process and investigation are still going on regarding the National Herald Scam. Pixabay
The judicial process and investigation are still going on regarding the National Herald Scam. Pixabay

How was AJL transferred to Young Indian?

  1. The Indian National Congress provided AJL with an unsecured zero interest loan of Rs 90 crores. Remember, the treasurer of INA and chairman of AJL are both the same person, Motilal Vora.
  2. In December 2010, the Board of Directors of Young Indian formally passed a resolution offering to own the outstanding debt of AJL of Rs 90 crores. This offer was accepted by the Chairman and Board of AJL.
  3. The AJL thereafter held a meeting of their Board and without reference to the Shareholders resolved that in lieu of Young Indian owing the debt and for a further consideration of Rs 50 Lakhs, the entire share equity of AJL would be transferred to Young Indian. Thus, AJL became a wholly owned company of Young Indian.
  4. The Indian National Congress wrote off the loan as irrecoverable by falsely holding that the Net Worth of the Company is negative.

Important Points

  • The Memorandum of Association of the AJL bars the Company from entering into any transaction which is not for furthering its objective to publish newspapers.
  • National Herald House is a prime property in Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg and was given by the Government for the purpose of publishing a newspaper at concessional rates. However, the Young Indian, now the owner of the National Herald House, has opened this property for commercial renting such as to Multinational Companies and to the Ministry of External Affairs for its Passport Seva Kendra on rent.

Important Questions

  • Why should Young Indian, which is majorly owned by the Gandhis, be assigned the AJL’s debt of Rs 90 crore that was gonna be written off by the INA?
  • Why didn’t AJL, which owns several real estate properties, use a part of its prime assets to repay the debt?

ALSO READ: Ruckus in Rajya Sabha over National Herald case

What do the shareholders say?

A number of shareholders have claimed that AJL’s chairman, Motilal Vora, and its directors did not inform them or obtain their approval while deciding to transfer its entire equity to Young Indian in December 2010.

“This is the first time I am hearing about such a company in which my grandfather had shared. I have no idea what kind of deal was struck. Had a letter or a notice for approval been sent to any of my siblings or at our Allahabad address, I would have been informed,” said former Supreme Court Judge Markandey Katju, whose grandfather Kailash Nath Katju held 131 shares in AJL.

Legality

As alleged by Subramanian Swamy, it is illegal for a political party to lend money for commercial purposes as per Section 29A to C of the Representation of the People Act, and Section 13A of Income-tax Act.

“According to the evidence so far, it appears that YIL was in fact created as a sham or a cloak to convert public money to personal use to acquire control over ₹20 billion worth of AJL assets,” said Metropolitan Magistrate Ms Gomati Manocha in 2014. The court had noted that all the accused, allegedly, had acted “in consortium with each other to achieve the said nefarious purpose/design”.

The National Herald case is currently an ongoing one, with the accused being charged under Sections 403, 406 and 420 read with Section 120-B of IPC.