Union Water Resources Ministry on Monday sent out letters to secretaries of water resources departments in both states inviting them for a meeting on the issue either on December 15 or 16 in New Delhi, sources said. This will be the first official meeting between the two sides on the issue in six years.
They said Pradeep Kumar, commissioner (projects) in the ministry, wrote the letter to the state secretaries for the meeting, which will be chaired by Water Resources Secretary D V Singh.
"The secretaries have been asked to choose between December 15 and 16 for the meeting which will be part of the consultations. This could serve as a ground for future meetings between ministers or the chief ministers of both states," the sources told PTI.
The Centre's decision came on a day when the Supreme Court-appointed empowered panel, headed by former Chief Justice of India A S Anand, decided to send a two-member technical team to the site of the Mullaperiyar Dam in Idukki district in Kerala to carry out an on-the-spot assessment of the claims made by both states.
"Two members (of the committee) will be visiting the Mullaperiyar dam site later this month. The committee will meet again on January two and three to discuss their findings," said a senior official attached to the committee. The dates of the visit, which are agreeable to the two states, will be decided later this week.
The committee is expected to submit its report on the controversial issue in February.
The Centre's decision to invite officials also comes in the wake of several political parties from both states meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and seeking his intervention on the issue.
At Monday's meeting of the panel, Kerala submitted a memorandum before it stating that frequent tremors in Idduki district, where the 116-year-old structure is located, was causing damage to the dam and that the state should be heard before the report is finalised.
Kerala wants that a new dam should be constructed to replace the old structure, claiming that it is essential to prevent a disaster.
Tamil Nadu told the panel that there was no need for a new dam and that the water level of the existing dam should be raised from the present 136 feet to 142 feet as per a 2006 Supreme Court directive. Stepping up their campaign, state Finance Minister and Kerala Congress (M) chief K M Mani went on a day-long fast at Chappath in Mullaperiyar on Monday while his party colleague and Water Resources Minister P J Joseph fasted in Delhi.
Speaking from the pandal where he is observing fast, 77-year-old Mani wanted Tamil Nadu to concede the state's demand for lowering the dam's water level to 120 feet as an immediate measure and wanted the Centre to step in to resolve the issue.
In Delhi, Joseph went to the Birla House on Tees January Marg, where Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated, at around 9 am and began his fast. "I am observing this fast seeking a peaceful solution to Mullaperiyar Dam dispute. My move is to express solidarity with thousands of people," Joseph said.
In the midst of the sparring, MDMK chief Vaiko met the prime minister and complained to him that Kerala government was creating "panic and fear psychosis" among the people on the dam issue while contending that the structure was safe. Meanwhile, Jayalalithaa said in Chennai that the Centre was yet to respond to her request for deployment of Central Industrial Security Force personnel at the dam site to avert any "man-made catastrophic consequences" in view of protests."I have written to the prime minister to provide CISF protection, but not received any response (so far)," she told reporters.