India can stop exporting tea to Pakistan in the wake of escalating tensions between the two neighbours following the Pulwama terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir that claimed the lives of 45 paramilitary troopers, said the exporters body, which is ready to back the Centre in case of any retaliatory measures, even at the cost of incurring losses.
Asked whether the Indian Tea Exporters' Association (ITEA) was ready to stop shipments across the border to Pakistan if the government shuts the door on bilateral trade, ITEA chairman Anshuman Kanoria asserted: "Of course, we are ready. The nation and the security of our forces and fellow countrymen comes first and commerce is secondary."
Kanoria said the tea exporters would support any decision by the central government in retaliation for the attack that was the worst-ever in Jammu and Kashmir against the forces since militancy erupted in the state in 1989.
A suicide bomber on Thursday rammed his SUV packed with explosives into a Central Reserve Police Force bus on the Jammu-Srinagar highway in Pulwama district, killing at least 45 troopers and injuring 38.
"Following the horrific terror attack, we have not even bothered to think about commercial implications. The nation comes first and when there is an incident like this, you are actually waiting for guidance from the government. What will happen to the market is completely secondary," Kanoria told IANS.
"Even if the tea exports to Pakistan are affected as a result of any decision the government takes in retaliation for the attack, we will stand by the government's decision irrespective of the possible adverse impact on our commerce," he elaborated.
Echoing Kanoria, India Tea Association Chairman Vivek Goenka told IANS: "Whenever there are tensions between the two countries, exports get impacted. We have seen that in the past also.
"However, we fully support the central government for its decisions. The country's security is much more important."
However, Kanoria said that at the moment it was "too premature" to comment whether there would be any adverse impact.
According to Tea Board data, exports to Pakistan during 2018 stood at 15.83 million kg, up by about 7.5 per cent from 14.73 million kg shipped out during the previous year. The exports were valued at Rs 154.71 crore during the calendar year 2018 against 142.44 crore in the previous year.
The attack took place around 3.15 pm on Thursday when a 'fidayeen' attacker belonging to the Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) rammed his explosive-packed SUV into a bus carrying CRPF troopers in Lethpora area of Pulwama.
The CRPF convoy of 78 vehicles was coming from Jammu to Srinagar. The convoy carried 2,547 CRPF personnel.
The attack happened even as an intelligence input had warned of its possibility 48 hours earlier.
(Bappaditya Chatterjee can be contacted at email@example.com)