NEW DELHI, Feb 5 (Reuters) - India's federal pollution regulator has warned 14 coal-fired power plants that they could be shut down and penalized for failing to comply with environmental standards, according to documents reviewed by Reuters.
The power plants, nine of which are around India's polluted capital, New Delhi and five of which are in south Indian states, account for over 7% of India's coal-fired utility capacity.
The plants have been given 15 days to respond to the notices sent on January 31, the documents showed.
Shutting the plants could further dent India's thermal coal imports, which fell for three straight months between August and October, according to the latest Indian government data.
India is the world's second largest thermal coal importer behind China, and is a large export market for coal miners in Indonesia, South Africa and the United States.
The move comes as New Delhi and other Indian cities have been struggling with some of the worst global air pollution levels.
In one of the letters dated Jan. 31 to the general manager of the Vedanta Ltd-operated Talwandi Sabo Power plant in the northern state of Punjab, India's Central Pollution Control Board's (CPCB) Chair cited a host of alleged violations.
"Talwandi Sabo Power Ltd is hereby directed to show cause as to why Units 1-3 of the plant should not be closed in view of the non-compliance and environmental compensation be imposed for continuing non-compliace of the directions," CPCB Chairman S.P Parihar said in the letter.
Vedanta said it would respond to the letter with all relevant details and was committed to comply with environmental requirements.
Indian utilities had already won an extension on a December 2017 deadline for power plants to meet emissions standards, after extensive lobbying by the industry.
India's power ministry has asked for another extension for coal-fired power plants around New Delhi.
Only one out of 11 plants around New Delhi - which had an end-2019 deadline - is complying with a law requiring them to install equipment to cut emissions of lung disease-causing sulfur oxides, according to the Central Electricity Authority.
Four plants have awarded bids and six have not awarded bids yet to retrofit the units.
More than half of India's coal-fired power plants ordered to retrofit equipment to curb sulfur oxide emissions are set to miss deadlines. (Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan Editing by Euan Rocha and Elaine Hardcastle)