The oil secretary said on Sunday he was hopeful of finding a "positive solution" to Cairn India's plans to sell a controlling stake in its Indian unit to Vedanta Resources.

Oil Secretary S. Sunderashan's remarks are the strongest sign yet that the proposed deal, valued at up to $9.6 billion, could go through by April 15, the target date set by both Cairn and Vedanta to seal the transaction.

The final call on the matter lies with the new Oil Minister S. Jaipal Reddy.

Cairn Energy agreed in August to sell between 40 and 51% in Cairn India to Vedanta, but the deal has been delayed on rumblings from the Indian government and its partner in the big Rajasthan blocks, Oil and Natural Gas Corp.

"We had constructive discussions with the representatives of Cairn and Vedanta. We hope to move forward to a positive solution," Sundareshan told reporters after a meeting of all stakeholders in the oil blocks in the western Rajasthan state.

He said the steps were being taken to expedite the deal but did not give a specific timeframe.

Separately, Cairn India also termed Sunday's meeting with Indian officials as "constructive", adding it hoped to seal the deal by April 15.

The approval will expedite completion of the biggest merger and acquisition deal in the Indian oil sector and could boost investor sentiment about the business climate in Asia's third biggest economy.

State-owned ONGC, which has a 30% stake in the Cairn-operated Rajasthan fields and pays royalties on the entire output, has said it would not block the planned deal but wanted the royalty issue to be resolved at the earliest.

The oil ministry has maintained it has nothing against the deal but it would strive to protect ONGC's interests.

ONGC's then chairman R. S. Sharma on Jan 30. said his firm would end up paying a royalty of 140 billion rupees ($3.1 billion) on crude output from Rajasthan fields as per the production plan submitted by the private firm to the government.

On Friday, Cairn shares in London traded down 2.7%, while Vedanta shares closed up 0.9%.

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