Dehradun: Kedarnath, one of the char dhams' that draw lakhs of devotees to Uttarakhand every year, was in the news in 2018 for more than one reason.
The year saw a major effort, monitored by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to redevelop the pilgrimage site after the devastation caused by the 2013 flash floods.
After the floods, the number of pilgrims visiting the temple town dropped from three lakh to just 40,000 in 2014. This year, it is a record seven lakh.
But around the year-end, it was Kedarnath, the movie, which made news.
Authorities in seven of the state's 13 districts banned the screening of the Hindu-Muslim love story set against the backdrop of the Kedarnath tragedy, after some Hindutva organisations protested that it promoted love jihad.
The year also saw a push by the state government to attract more investment, suspension of bureaucrats in an old corruption case, the death of a prominent politician and the passing of a renowned environmentalist who sat on a fast to save the Ganga. A rural development and migration commission was set up in 2018 to address migration from the hill state, a challenge faced by successive governments.The commission submitted its first report in May, noting that over 700 villages were left with virtually no population due to migration over the last seven years. Investment that helps generate employment for the local community could help stop this exodus, it is often felt. An investment summit, inaugurated by the prime minister in the state capital Dehradun, is claimed to have brought in big-ticket proposals worth over Rs 30,000 crore.
The summit followed weeks of lobbying by Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat and his cabinet colleagues at business centres across the country. Uttarakhand BJP spokesman Munna Singh Chauhan claimed that the exercise has brought in more investment to the state than ever before.
A big chunk of the investment in the state in its early years is credited to the efforts of Narayan Dutt Tiwari, the first chief minister of Uttarakhand to complete a full term. He died this year in Delhi.
At the investors' summit, Modi talked about the state's unique combination of famous pilgrimage centres, scenic beauty, serene locations perfect for yoga and meditation and proximity to the national capital.
And he came up with a new expansion of an old acronym. He said Uttarakhand could emerge as India's first 'spiritual economic zone' (SEZ). The BJP government continued to pursue an alleged Rs 300-crore scam over acquisition of land for widening of NH-74 between 2011 and 2016. Two senior IAS officers were suspended and more arrests made this year.
Though the government flags this as a reflection of its zero tolerance towards corruption, the opposition has been putting it in the dock every assembly session for the delay in the appointment of a Lokayukta for the state. The Bharatiya Janata Party had promised this before it came into power nearly two years back. The state became the first in the country to demand a Rashtra Mata (Mother of the Nation) status for the cow, passing a resolution in the assembly on this and forwarding it to the Centre.
But Mother Ganga continues to suffer, even if it is less polluted in the state than downstream.
IIT professor-turned-Ganga activist G D Agarwal passed away at a Rishikesh hospital after sitting on a fast for 110 days, protesting against pollution and dams that block the free flow of the river. The state government put in a major effort to rejuvenate Rispana and Kosi rivers by carrying out a big tree plantation drive in their catchment areas.
Uttarakhand High Court delivered some landmark judgments this year, including one against cruelty to animals, saying they had rights similar to those enjoyed by humans. It also directed a major anti-encroachment drive.
Despite the district-level bans on screening Kedarnath, the state government is keen to see more films shot in the picturesque state.
It has now exempted filmmakers from charges for shooting. Southern star Rajinikanth shot here this year. So did Shahid Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor for 'Batti Gul Meter Chalu'. The government apparently expects spin-off benefits of encouraging the shooting of movies. Similarly, it has also started work on a tourism promotion scheme called "13 Districts, 13 New Destinations, following the realisation that old favourites Mussoorie and Nainital had reached the saturation point.