Thiruvananthapuram: In a sign of a way forward out of the impasse over the Mullaperiyar dam issue, Kerala and Tamil Nadu officials are to meet on Dec 15 or 16 to discuss the 116-year-old dam in Kerala, which the ruling Congress described as a 'Damocles sword' hanging over the state.
At its Monday meeting, the state executive of the Congress party concluded that the first step is to reduce the water level of the Mullaperiyar Dam from 136 feet to 120 feet and give the go-ahead for a new dam.
"The dam for many years is like a Damocles sword hanging over Kerala and with a series of tremors taking place in and around the dam site, people in Idukki and the four neighbouring districts are living in perennial fear. The only solution to this is a new dam," state Congress president Ramesh Chennithala told reporters here.
As the press conference was progressing, news came that Tamil Nadu is ready for bilateral talks "on the 15th or 16th of this month".
"This is a very positive sign and it has raised our hopes of a settlement on the issue. We wish for an out of court settlement and are confident that the centre will make the necessary move for this," said Chennithala.
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy had rushed to Delhi last week and briefed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi seeking their immediate intervention in the issue.
Kerala and Tamil Nadu have been at loggerheads over the dam, built in Idukki district under an 1886 accord between then Maharaja of Travancore and the erstwhile British Raj. While the dam is located in Kerala, its waters serve Tamil Nadu.
Tamil Nadu wants the dam's storage capacity to be increased by raising the dam height from 136 feet (41.5 metre) to 142 feet (43 metre) as the state's irrigation needs have shot up.
Kerala is worried that a strong earthquake might damage the dam and cause widespread destruction and flooding. It is seeking a new dam and has offered to fund and build it. But Tamil Nadu does not agree.
Experts have pointed out that if a quake strikes the dam and it is damaged, people and property in districts of Idukki, Kottayam, Alappuzha, Ernakulam and parts of Thrissur would be washed away.
For the past 10 days, numerous top political leaders, irrespective of political affiliations, are on a fast at two places in Idukki district. On Monday, it was the turn of state Finance Minister K.M. Mani, who termed his daylong fast as a prayer session.
In a related development the Supreme Court-appointed empowered committee that met in Delhi Monday decided to make an on-the-spot assessment of the Mullaperiyar Dam later this month.
Meanwhile, reports have come from the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border at Kambam (in Tamil Nadu) located near Thekkady, that a few establishments owned by Keralites have been attacked. Top police officials of both the states met to discuss the matter and see that things are contained.