SHIMLA: The drowning of 24 engineering students in Beas river, prolonged agitations by students and political acrimony marred 2014 in Himachal Pradesh which also saw Congress facing a humiliating defeat in Lok Sabha polls.
The year, which coincided with completion of two years of Congress government led by Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, saw the state reeling under acute financial crunch and the government constituting a cabinet sub-committee to suggest means to cut expenditure and mobilise resources.
Bus fares were hiked and VAT on diesel and petroleum product was also increased to tide over the situation.
The issue of recovery of arrears on account of states share in rejects under BBMB (Bhakra Beas management Board) remained unresolved while Himachal government got Rs 62.82 crore from Punjab for Shah Nahar Project.
The water supply augmentation scheme for Shimla remained embroiled in controversy with Irrigation and Public Health Minister Vidya Stokes batting for Pabbar Gravity scheme and officers pleading for Kol Dam lift drinking water scheme as it was cheaper and easy to construct. Finally, the chief minister decided in favour of Kol Dam scheme but the project is yet to take off.
The Thalout tragedy sent shock waves in the state and the biggest ever rescue operations with the help of about 2000 men from NDRF, Army, Navy, Police Home Guards and ITBP, continued for nearly two months and the bodies of all the 24 students of a Hyderabad engineering college and a tourist guide were recovered.
The high court also took suo motu notice of the incident and several safety measures and provision of alarm system at dams was mooted. The court also announced interim compensation for next of kin of victims and indicted the management of the engineering college.
The theft of ancient idols of Lord Raghunathji, the presiding deity of 300 deities of Kullu valley, Lord Hanuman and other valuables from Sultanpur temple in Kullu, rocked the state and massive search operations, including alerting the Interpol and international airports and stepping up of vigil on Indo-Nepal border by the investigating agencies yielded no result.
Kullu Dussehra festival also suffered a setback following a complete ban imposed by Himachal Pradesh High Court on animal sacrifices in temples and other religious ceremonies and there was no animal sacrifice during the festival this year.
Besides Thalout tragedy ten major road accidents occurred in Sirmaur, Kinnaur, Chamba, Bilaspur and Shimla district, claiming over 150 lives.
The ruling Congress received a major set back in Lok Sabha polls losing all four seats and even Pratibha Singh, wife of the chief minister, failed to save her seat.
BJP not only swept the polls but also wrested the Sujanpur Assembly seat where by-election was held following resignation of Independent MLA Rajinder Rana who joined Congress and unsuccessfully contested the Lok Sabha polls.
The Great Himalayan National Park in Lahaul and Spiti was accorded status of World Heritage Site by UNESCO, making it second monument after the Shimla-Kalka narrow gauge Railway line to get the distinction.
There was a spurt in cases of illegal felling of trees in various parts of state and cases were registered after reports of mass felling of trees in Shimla, Chamba, Nalagarh and Sirmaur districts poured in.
A war of attrition between Congress and BJP leaders continued unabated and the chief minister and his loyalists and Leader of Opposition P K Dhumal traded charges.
The governor gave prosecution sanction against former chief minister Dhumal and Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau filed charge-sheet against Dhumal, his MP son Anurag Thakur and 16 others in the case pertaining to conversion of Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) from a society to company.
The vigilance bureau also filed two other charge-sheets against Thakur, who is also president of HPCA and others in connection with alleged felling of trees and demolition of government building for construction of HPCA stadium and Pavilion Hotel in Dharamsala.
An FIR was registered against Dhumal for allegedly giving favours to former IGP A N Sharma, who had sought premature retirement on the eve of assembly polls in 2012 but was again allowed to join the service after BJP returned to power and was given promotion.
The Himachal Assembly passed the new Lokayukta Bill, providing for one-member Lokayukta vested with powers of contempt while the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Bill, which was criticised for allegedly seeking to reward the violators who have constructed building in blatant violation of provisions of town and planning act, municipal laws and environmental laws, continued hanging fire.
There was virtual turmoil in education institutions with students of Himachal Pradesh University and affiliated colleges launching an agitation against implementation of Rashtriya Uchatar Siksha Abhiyan (RUSA), fee hike and scrapping of Students Central Association (SCA) polls which continued till the end of the session with the SFI and ABVP vowing to restart the agitation when the session begins.
The hasty implementation of RUSA in undergraduate courses created a chaos. Results of first semesters were not declared till the examinations for second semester finished and there were numerous errors in the results.
Prohibitory orders under section 144 of CrPC were imposed in the university campus in August and remained enforced till date. Vice Chancellor AND Bajpai was allegedly roughed up and at the end of academic session, nine students were jailed and seven others were expelled for indiscipline and indulging in violence. However, Bajpai got another three-year term as Vice Chancellor.
Early heavy snowfall in December paralysed normal life in many parts of the state. Kullu and Manali remained without electricity, water and other services for a week and the government issued an advisory asking the tourists to avoid visiting the area.
Two heritage buildings here -- the 110-year-old 'Gorten Castle' housing the office Accountant General and 105-year-old Minto Courts building, housing the office of Border Roads organisation -- were gutted in fire incidents.