A Newslaundry series that deciphers the ownership of India's major news organisations.
India had just been freed of British rule. Yet British-established English dailies were the dominant media. At such a time, Murari Lal Maheshwari and Dori Lal Agarwal decided to start a news and current affairs newspaper. The objective, states their publication’s website, was “promoting social awakening and introducing a feeling of responsibility among the citizens of a recently independent India, heading towards building a new India.”
And so, in the summer of 1948, the duo launched the Hindi daily, Amar Ujala.
Headlines from the Heartland: Reinventing the Hindi Public Sphere by Sevanti Ninan, which called their aim “lofty”, noted that the newspaper was a four-pager with a circulation of 2,576 copies.
In time, Maheshwari, Agarwal and some others entered into a partnership under the name National Journals. By 1968, the book says, the circulation hit 20,000 copies and covered over 14 districts of western Uttar Pradesh. It then ventured into neighbouring states.
In 1979, National Journals was dissolved and split into two separate partnerships – Amar Ujala Publications for the Agra business, and Amar Ujala Prakashan for the one at Bareilly.
In 2001, both partnerships were converted into companies – Amar Ujala Publications Limited and Amar Ujala Prakashan Limited. Partners in M/s Amar Ujala Publications became the initial subscribers to the public limited company’s memorandum of association. The allottees were Dori Lal’s sons Ashok and Ajay, Ashok’s son Manu Anand, their late sibling Anil Kumar’s son Saurabh Anand, and Anil Kumar’s wife Kamlesh Aggarwal (as natural guardian to their son Sagar Anand, a minor). Allottees from the Maheshwari family were Murari Lal’s sons Atul and Rajul, and Atul Maheshwari’s wife Sneh Lata.
That same year, Atul Maheshwari took over as the group’s managing director and the paper launched its Varanasi edition. Editions in Delhi and Nainital followed in subsequent years.
In 2004, Amar Ujala Prakashan merged with Amar Ujala Publications. As consideration, equity shares were allotted to the erstwhile shareholders of Amar Ujala Prakashan Limited in the following manner: 180,000 equity shares to Ashok Agarwal, 250,000 to Atul Maheshwari, 24,900 to Ajay Agarwal, 220,000 to Rajul Maheshwari, 1,70,000 to Kamlesh Agarwal, 155,000 equity shares to Ajay’s wife, Renu, and 100 to his son Hemant Anand.
By 2005, as per Ninan’s book, the paper ranked fifth nationally in all languages as per that year’s National Readership Survey. In addition to UP, it was also one of the leading newspapers in Chandigarh, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir.
Funding and feuds
But soon, the group saw a slew of disputes.
As per a report in the Hoot, feuds began between the Agarwal and Maheshwari families in 2006 after Dori Lal’s son Ajay decided to sell his 35.33 percent stake in Amar Ujala group’s holding company. The Company Law Board allowed Atul Maheshwari and Ashok Agarwal to buy his stake for Rs 138 crore.
At the time, as per the Hoot, Amar Ujala Publications was valued at Rs 390 crore. Furthermore, Ajay, a minority shareholder, made a third-party funding arrangement with Mediavest India Pvt. Ltd, belonging to Subhash Chandra’s Zee group, and an unknown merchant banker to buy out the majority stakes in the company held by Atul and Ashok for Rs 252 crore.
But the Company Law Board disallowed it on grounds that the minority stakeholder could not facilitate, negotiate or shop around with any third party for three years to either acquire ownership or control over the company.
A year on, in 2007, DE Shaw Composite Investment (Mauritius) Ltd PCC, belonging to the DE Shaw group, one of the world’s biggest hedge funds, invested in Amar Ujala. It picked up 9,87,805 equity shares or 18 percent stake in Amar Ujala Publications and another group company, A and M Publications, combined, for Rs 117 crore. Following this change, Amar Ujala moved its registered office from UP to Delhi.
A and M, which was also owned by the Agarwal and Maheshwari families, was into the printing of newspapers, periodicals, books, journals, directories, maps and so on. In 2008, it merged with Amar Ujala Publications Ltd.
But just three years after the group received funding, in October 2010, the Maheshwari and Agarwal families got embroiled in a legal tussle with DE Shaw. As per the Hoot, it was after the promoters allegedly reneged on an agreement to publicly issue the company's shares. Both families, the Hoot reported, filed suits against each other as well as the hedge fund, accusing the promoters of violating government rules relating to foreign investment.
Things got so out of hand, the report said, that DE Shaw proposed an exit call, asking Amar Ujala’s promoters to pay a 25 percent return on its investment. This was contested and the dispute went to the Supreme Court.
Eventually, in 2012, DE Shaw transferred its entire shareholding in Amar Ujala to Pun Undertakings Network Private Limited, which was incorporated the same year. Both DE Shaw as well as Amar Ujala withdrew their respective claims in relation to the disputes. Although Bhakt Mohan Pun was the director of Pun Undertakings at the time, the Hoot reported that Pun Undertakings was “allegedly a shell company promoted by the Maheshwaris”. Ashok Agarwal and others disputed the transfer of DE Shaws’s equity shares to Pun Undertakings too.
While the matter with the foreign investor got settled, as per the Hoot’s report, the fight between the Maheshwari and Agarwal families only worsened. In fact, the report said, Ajay Agarwal even launched a rival daily called DLA based on the initials of his father’s Dori Lal’s name. Further, it said, the feud took a “sensational” turn after the Maheshwari family’s lawyer Ankur Chawla (son of New Indian Express editor Prabhu Chawla) was accused of abetting an act of bribery. The Rs 10 lakh bribe, it said, was allegedly paid to the Company Law Board’s then chairman, R Vasudevan, to pass an order in favour of the Maheshwaris and against the Agarwals.
The report said: “While Vasudevan was allegedly caught ‘red-handed’ by the CBI and charged, the allegations against Ankur Chawla...were quashed by the Delhi High Court in November 2014 as the evidence submitted by the CBI was considered inadmissible.”
The dust settles and Amar Ujala eyes an IPO
Atul Maheshwari, who was at the helm of the group, passed away in 2011, at the age of 55. The baton was passed to Rajul Maheshwari who, until recently, was the managing director.
In 2013, the Maheshwari and Agarwal families eventually entered into a settlement, agreeing to withdraw their cases. The Agarwals sold their entire shareholding in three companies – Amar Ujala Publications Ltd (7,95,017 equity shares), Help-Line Securities Private Ltd (1,82,666 equity shares) and Antarctica Finvest Private Ltd (25,284 equity shares) – to the Maheshwari family and/or its nominees. On September 2, 2014, the balance 7,69,298 equity shares – held by Manu Anand, Daya Agarwal and Ashok Agarwal – were transferred to Northern India Media Private Ltd as a nominee of the Maheshwari family for a consideration of Rs 114.183 crore.
Two years on, the group had ambitious plans to go public and filed a Draft Red Herring Prospectus in March 2015.
At the time, Northern India Media was owned by Sneh Lata (50 percent) and Rajul Maheshwari (50 percent); Help-Line Securities Private Ltd by Sneh Lata (44.28 percent) and Rajul Maheshwari (55.72 percent); and Antarctica Finvest Private Limited by Rajul (49.92 percent), Sneh Lata (33.33 percent) and her son Tanmay Maheshwari (16.75 percent).
With the Agarwals gone, Amar Ujala Publications Ltd’s shareholders were now Rajul, Sneh Lata, Tanmay and Rajul’s son Varun, who held 19, 19, 0.5 and 0.5 percent shares respectively. Antarctica Finvest and Northern India Media, which were part of the promoter group, held 28.97 percent and 14.02 percent shares respectively. The only non-promoter shareholder, Pun Undertakings Network Private Ltd, owned 18 percent shares.
As per the DRHP, Rajul Maheshwari was a member of the executive council of the Indian Newspaper Society, New Delhi, at the time.
During the first half of 2014, Amar Ujala was publishing 19 editions in six states and two union territories with an average circulation of 19.5 lakh copies per day, as per Audit Bureau of Circulation data. It also boasted a 14.98 percent growth in circulation during this period. Amar Ujala Compact, its city-centric tabloid that launched in 2007, had six editions in UP. Its magazines included Safalta, a niche Hindi monthly providing study material for civil services and other examinations; Safalta Samyiki, which provides information pertaining to general knowledge and current affairs; and Chaupal, which focuses on agriculture and related industry practices. The group also published Amar Ujala Education Books that included solved papers for UGC exams, GK manuals, books based on NCERT curriculum, and study kits for UPSC and IBPS exams.
The company’s total revenues for FY 2014 and FY 2013 had been Rs 640.34 crore and Rs 544.15 crore, respectively, and net profits were Rs 25.01 crore and Rs 18.51 crore, respectively.
In June of 2015, SEBI reportedly cleared Amar Ujala Publications’ application for an initial public offer, but the IPO never saw the light of day. We reached out to Amar Ujala to ask why it was so; this report will be updated if we receive a response.
Consolidation and ownership
By March 2017, Pun Undertaking had transferred 33.33 percent of its stake in Amar Ujala to Northern India Media Private Limited and the remaining to a new non-promoter, Shams Professional Pvt. Ltd.
Bhakt Mohan Pun had in the past briefly served as director at Shams. Another past director of Shams, Pradeep Jauhari, had previously also been a director at companies that Bhakt Pun had been a director at – namely Starla Media Pvt. Ltd and Steren Associates Pvt. Ltd. Moreover, for a decade, Bhakt Pun had also been a director at Kadambari CapFinLease, a finance company whose current status is ‘strike off’ and where Rajul Maheshwari had served as director from 1996 to 2019.
Following the transfer, Northern India Media was merged into Amar Ujala Publications. By December 2017, after a buy-back, Shams was out too. So, by FY 2018, the shareholding of Antarctica Finvest in Amar Ujala had increased to 44.02 percent, Sneha Lata and Rajul Maheshwari’s to 27.27 percent each, and Tanmay and Varun Maheshwari’s to 0.72 percent shares each. Pratul Maheshwari held two shares, and Ruchi and Garima Maheshwari each held 100 shares.
The company’s shareholding pattern has remained the same ever since.
But that of Amar Ujala’s majority shareholder, Antarctica Finvest, has seen a marginal change. Rajul Maheshwari's shareholding of 49.91 percent in Antarctica Finvest today is a 0.01 percent dip from 2018. Sneha Lata's 33.26 percent is a 0.07 percent dip and Tanmay Maheshwari's 16.74 percent shareholding is a 0.01 percent dip. Together, the 0.09 percent remaining thanks to all their reductions has been allotted to Varun Maheshwari. At present, Tanmay Maheshwari is the honorary treasurer of the Indian Newspaper Society.
Contemplating diversifying its business into multiple segments, in 2019, the company’s name was changed from Amar Ujala Publications Ltd to Amar Ujala Ltd.
The group has diversified indeed. It got into healthcare with Ujala Cygnus Hospitals through a 2019 merger between Ujala HealthCare Services and Cygnus Medicare. The group also developed an event planning and activation division called TouchPoint Integrated Marketing Solutions.
As for its core focus, as per latest data from the Registrar of Newspapers for India, Amar Ujala today has 19 editions registered under Amar Ujala Ltd in Hisar, Agra, Moradabad, Nainital, Bareilly, Aligarh, Karnal, Rohtak, Kanpur, Gorakhpur, Chandigarh, Jammu, Dharamshala, Allahabad, Varanasi, Delhi, Jalandhar, Meerut and Dehradun.
The Jhansi edition, its twentieth edition, is however registered under the old name, Amar Ujala Publications Ltd. The group is gearing up to launch its Shimla edition.
Also still registered under the old name are: Amar Ujala Compact, which now has editions in Gautam Buddha Nagar, Agra, Meerut, Varanasi, Kanpur, Ghaziabad, Allahabad, Gorakhpur and Bareilly; its monthly magazines Amar Ujala GK and IQ, Amar Ujala Safalata, Amar Ujala Orbit, Safalata Samayiki and Amar Ujala Chaupal, as well as weeklies Amar Ujala Udaan, Rupayan, Amar Ujala Kalpavriksha, Amar Ujala Bazar News, Amar Ujala Jobs and Amar Ujala Yuvan, all of which have editions in UP’s Gautam Buddha Nagar district.
Its digital arm, AUW, as per the company’s website, delivers round-the-clock hyperlocal, national and international news and information across genres via its mobile app, social media and digital properties.
Finally, Impressions, its wholly owned subsidiary, offers a wide range of printing solutions to cater to the growing requirements of its business partners and advertisers.
Amar Ujala Ltd’s main revenue stream remains advertising and the sale of newspapers, with advertisement revenue amounting to approximately 66 percent of its total revenue, as per the latest financial statements.
The revenue from operations, as per the consolidated financial statements, have seen some high and lows in the past five years. From Rs 871 crore in 2018, it rose to Rs 948 crore in 2019 and again dipped to Rs 896 crore in 2020, the first year of the pandemic. But it saw the most drastic drop in 2021 – the revenue was merely Rs 619 crore. Even so, in just one year, it’s made quite a recovery with operating revenue of Rs 810 crore.
While it may have had greater operating revenue and total income in previous years, 2022 has seen the highest profitability. Where its net profit ranged from Rs 33 crore to Rs 41 crore in previous years, 2022 witnessed a net profit of Rs 87 crore.
All financial and ownership details are derived from financial statements and other company documents filed by the media house with the ministry of corporate affairs, the Bombay Stock Exchange, and the National Stock Exchange.
Graphics by Gobindh VB.
Amar Ujala’s website: https://www.amarujala.com/about-us
Headlines from the Heartland: Reinventing the Hindi Public Sphere by Sevant Ninan
Article in VCC Circle: Regional Media Publication Amar Ujala Files For IPO.
Article in the Hoot: Amar Ujala to go public: burying a controversial past? Link: http://asu.thehoot.org/media-watch/media-business/amar-ujala-to-go-public-burying-a-controversial-past-8342
About A and M Publications, info on www.companyhouse.in
Amar Ujala Publication Limited - Draft Red Herring Prospectus
Article in News18: Sebi clears three Initial Public Offerings; total approvals reach 17 this year. Link: https://www.news18.com/news/business/sebi-clears-three-initial-public-offerings-total-approvals-reach-17-this-year-1003558.html
Bhakt Mohan Pun, Pradeep Jauhari and Rajul Maheshwari’s director profiles on Tofler
Copy of court order or NCLT or CLB or order by any other competent authority regarding amalgamation Northern India Media Pvt.Ltd. with Amar Ujala Publications Limited.
List of shareholders, debenture holders – 2017 (Amar Ujala Publications Limited)
List of shareholders, debenture holders – 2018, 2022 (Amar Ujala Publications Limited)
List of shareholders, debenture holders – 2022 (Antarctica Finvest Private Limited)
Company Documents and Financial Statements available with MCA for relevant years
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