In province known for deadly mining accidents, a Pakistani man invents anti-risk helmet

Ali Gul, a student of Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering and Management Sciences, receives an appreciation letter for his prototype of the Smart Eye Helmet at the Islamabad Startup Club held in February this year. (Photo courtesy: Ali Gul)
Updated 25 July 2019

In province known for deadly mining accidents, a Pakistani man invents anti-risk helmet

  • Ali Gul’s Eye Smart Helmet uses sensors to monitor coal mine conditions, toxic gases, explosion risks, location and health vitals of miners
  • At least 120 workers die on average each year in mining accidents in Balochistan, 94 killed in first seven months of 2019 alone

KARACHI: A school bag slung over his shoulder and a dream in his eyes, little Ali Gul would often stop by at the coal mine where his brother worked on his way to school each morning in the mining town of Sinjawi in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province. 
There he would sit for a while among the acrid smell of burning coal and quietly watch the miners, their faces caked in toxic dust and dried sweat from working up to 1,200 feet underground on grueling 8-hour shifts. 
As he would walk off to school moments later, Gul couldn’t help but wonder if he too might end up working at the mines like his brother Gul Muhammad and so many other relatives and friends from his village in Ziarat district, a few kilometers from the coal-mining center of Duki.
Instead, Gul traveled far away from home every single day for many years to attend school and eventually university in Quetta, resolved never to set foot in a coal mine.
In February 2015, Gul’s family received news that his brother had passed out in a mine after a toxic gas leak. Though Muhammad survived, the incident so shook Gul that he decided he had to do something to improve the precarious conditions that Balochistan’s 300,000 coal miners worked in at 3,000 mines across the province.
Just last week, rescue teams saved two miners and retrieved the bodies of eight others after a methane explosion trapped the 10 in a coal mine in Balochistan. Safety standards are widely ignored in the coal-mining industry in Pakistan, leading to numerous deadly incidents.

Ali Gul, a student of Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering and Management Sciences, works on the design of the Smart Eye Helmet project, which earned him a Rs14 million grant from Pakistan's Higher Education Commission on May 2, 2019: Photo taken on July 23, 2019. (Photo courtesy: Ali Gul)

“After my brother’s injury, I would think I have to do something to stop these lethal incidents from happening,” Gul, 24, told Arab News via telephone from Quetta. “It was usual for us to keep hearing about a new accident or that an acquaintance had died or was seriously hurt.”
When Gul moved to Quetta to study computer engineering at the Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering and Management Sciences (BUITEMS), his roommate, Gul Ustad, turned out to be a former coal miner himself, providing Gul with an even greater impetus to put his plan into action. 
Soon after, Gul started to conduct research and found that at least 120 workers died on average each year in mining incidents in Balochistan. Gul thus began to work on a prototype for what would come to be called the Eye Smart Helmet: a special headgear that uses sensors to monitor mine conditions, the presence of toxic gases, explosion risks, and the location and health vitals of miners working in a particular mine. 

Ali Gul, a student of Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering and Management Sciences, won a Rs14 million grant from Pakistan's Higher Education Commission on May 2, 2019 for his Eye Smart Helmet project to protect coal miners in Balochistan province, Pakistan. (Photo courtesy: Ali Gul)

Gul’s landlord in Quetta, who also happened to be a mine owner, saw the prototype of the helmet in his room one morning in 2016 and ordered him to make 20 samples. Gul delivered the order in 2017 but could not make any more helmets due to a lack of funds.
At the start of 2018, Gul took his helmet to Islamabad’s Startup Cup, a nonprofit venture that aims to foster entrepreneurial spirit in Pakistan. Here he met Jawad Khan and Muhammad Azeem who had brought their own startup, Qayaam, a platform for short-term renting, to the tournament. The three men got talking and exchanged numbers. 
“His prototype was brilliant but he didn’t know how to generate funds,” Azeem told Arab News, saying him and Khan shared their number with Gul and they all began working together on the project’s financial assessment.
The teamwork paid off. In May this year, Gul and his partners won a Rs14 million grant from the High Education Commission (HEC), which will be released incrementally for product development between July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020. Gul and his team will be required to conduct primary research on mines, working conditions as well as the nature of the work and of the mines. They will also use the funds to improve their prototype in light of their research findings before testing it in Balochistan’s mines. After a successful test, set to be carried out before June 30, 2020, the product will begin to be produced for commercial use.

In this photograph taken in January 2018, a coal miner at 98 Quetta Mine Area is wearing a helmet designed by Ali Gul, a student of Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering and Management Sciences, whose Smart Eye Helmet project won a Rs14 million grant from Pakistan's Higher Education Commission on May 2, 2019. (Photo courtesy: Ali Gul)

“This [helmet] will help us to save the lives of coal miners and enable owners to increase their productivity,” Gul’s colleague Khan said, adding that the headgear would also help predict mine collapses more accurately in the future. 
“Once the project is completed, we will move toward the stage of mass generation and marketing,” said Azeem, whose role in the venture is to strategize and generate funds.
The team says though they have already been approached for orders by clients in Europe, their primary focus is Pakistan.
“We want to save the precious lives of our countrymen first,” Gul said. “We want to save lives and millions of rupees in losses and at the same time tell the world that there are some awesome, innovative made-in-Pakistan products available.”
Gul’s work, he says, is gaining in urgency as the number of mining deaths have gone up in recent years, from 120 deaths on average each year to 172 workers between July 2017-2018. Around 94 people have died in mining accidents in just the first seven months of 2019, according to the All Pakistan Labour Federation Balochistan.
“I had resolved as a young kid that I would never have anything to do with coal mines, that I would make a better life for myself,” Gul said. “I had never imagined I would even enter a coal mine. But now I have,” he said smilingly, “to take safety helmet for miners.”

Pakistan inflation at 13-year high as government raises fuel prices on IMF demand

Updated 7 sec ago

Pakistan inflation at 13-year high as government raises fuel prices on IMF demand

  • Economist says ‘surprising and worrisome’ inflation numbers would hit lower and middle-income segments
  • Industrialists, transporters say rising fuel costs make it difficult to keep the industries and vehicles running

KARACHI: Pakistan’s inflation rate increased to 21.3 percent in June, the highest in 13 years, after the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif raised prices of petroleum products by over 90 percent as prior action to meet International Monetary Fund's (IMF) conditions for the revival of $6 billion loan program. 

Inflation in Pakistan stood at 13.8 percent in May and 9.7 percent in June 2021. On a month-on-month basis, it increased by 6.3 percent in June as compared to an increase of 0.4 percent in the previous month, the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) said.   

The South Asian country has thrice increased the prices of petrol and diesel, eventually taking the two commodities to Rs248.74 and Rs276.54 per litre respectively. since coming into power after ouster of the former Prime minister Imran Khan in April 2022. Former PM Imran Khan had frozen petroleum prices contrary to the conditions agreed with the IMF, which had increased the fuel subsidy amid rising oil prices in the international market.   

“Inflation numbers for June are indeed a surprise on the upside, especially the number of 32.01 percent on food inflation represented by Sensitive Price Index is worrisome,” Dr Khaqan Najeeb, former advisor to the Pakistani finance ministry, told Arab News.  

“We must also remember that the CPI number of 21.3 percent still does not account for the energy price increase of both electricity and gas as are expected from the first of July 2022. These numbers show elevated commodity prices seeping into Pakistan’s inflation as well as the adjustment of the rupee, which has been 30 percent (lower against dollar) in FY22.”   

Economists fear inflation in the country would go further up with the increase in freight and interest rates.   

“This inflation rate is too much. It will destroy the poor and even the middle-income segment of the country,” said Dr Ashfaque Hassan Khan, a senior economist.  

“Now when the transport charges will increase and the central bank will increase interest rates, food inflation will further jump up because everything in the agriculture sector is running on diesel from a tubewell to a tractor.”  

Dr Khan held the IMF loan facility responsible for higher inflation in Pakistan and termed it the "most brutal" program for any country. “The is the most brutal IMF program ever given to any country in the world.”     

The rising fuel costs have largely impacted operations of public transport in Pakistan, but transporters are reluctant to increase fares as they fear the public wrath.   

“The rising fuel costs have devastated the transport sector as the situation is leading to suspension of operations. We are unable to further raise fares to match the fuel price hike due to dwindling purchasing power of poor masses who travel via public transport,” Irshad Bukhari, president of Karachi transport alliance, told Arab News.   

“People from working class are struggling with their limited income to survive. We have raised fares by Rs10 but now it is becoming tough to further raise the fares as people may resort to violence against transporters.”   

Pakistani industrialists face the brunt of fuel price hike at a time when the country’s commercial hub is facing unprecedented power outages.   

“The cost of production is running out of control due to the substantial increase in energy prices and majority of industries are keeping the mills running through power generators that burn petrol and diesel,” Muhammad Idrees, president of Karachi Chambers of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), told Arab News.   

“We are analyzing the true impact of energy rate hikes on businesses and will come up with the exact data. It is getting difficult to timely honor export orders due to rising costs of production as compared to the rates at the time of booking of orders.”   

Economists say the government must ensure a smooth supply of food products to contain the sufferings of the lower-income groups.  

“Moving forward, the government has to ensure that the supply side, especially of perishable and non-perishable goods, is maintained so that citizens who spend more than half of their income on food are protected,” Najeeb said.   

“It is highly important to manage the rate of monetary expansion to low double digits as well as to ensure the supply of cheaper fuels and conservation measures in the country.” 

Pakistan’s central bank is scheduled to announce its monetary policy next week, which majority of experts believe would raise the policy rate.     

“As per the survey, 80 percent of the participants expect an increase in policy rate in the upcoming monetary policy,” Topline Securities, a Karachi-based brokerage house, said on Friday. 

“Around 45 percent of the participants expect policy rate to increase by 100bps (basis points), 30 percent anticipate an increase of 150bps and 5 percent expect an increase of more than 150bps.” 

Pakistan’s top court orders re-election for Punjab chief minister’s post on July 22

Updated 01 July 2022

Pakistan’s top court orders re-election for Punjab chief minister’s post on July 22

  • All parties agree Hamza Shehbaz will stay as Punjab CM till July 17
  • CM Shehbaz says he has 'nothing to hide,' accepts the court verdict

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top court on Friday directed authorities to hold a re-election for the post of Punjab chief minister on July 22, local media reported, a day after a high court ordered a recount of votes for the election held in April.   

The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Thursday ordered a recount of votes for the April 16 election which was won by Hamza Shehbaz, ruling the votes of 25 dissident lawmakers of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party who voted for Shehbaz would not be counted. 

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) de-seated these 25 lawmakers in May for deviating from the party’s policy and voting for Shehbaz in the election for CM's slot.   

The PTI challenged the high court’s verdict in the Supreme Court on Friday and after much back-and-forth, all parties to the case — the PTI, the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) and Shehbaz —agreed to the chief minister’s election on July 22 and that Shehbaz would stay as the CM till July 17.  

"The apex court issued the verbal order as a three-member bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail, took up the petition filed earlier today," Dawn news website reported. 

Shehbaz told reporters outside the court that the CM's election would be held five days after the July 17 by-polls for the Punjab Assembly seats that fell vacant after the ECP de-seated 25 PTI members.   

“I told them [Supreme Court judges] that this is acceptable to me,” CM Shehbaz said. “I have nothing to hide.”  

Shehbaz, a member of the now ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, got 197 votes in the chief minister's election but was left with the support of 172 members in the house after the disqualification of the 25 MPs. 

The high court’s verdict had said if the required majority for Shehbaz, which is 186 votes in the 371-member house, was not secured, the election would be held again under Article 130(4), unless another candidate secured majority votes.  

Article 130(4) says in the second round of voting, a member would not require 186 votes but simply needed a majority of those “present and voting” to be elected the chief minister.  

The top post in Punjab had fallen vacant after the resignation of former Punjab chief minister Usman Buzdar, a close aide of PTI leader Imran Khan, in early April. 

Much of political drama has since surrounded the coveted post in the country's most populous and resourceful province. 

Congo virus threat looms in southwest Pakistan ahead of Eid Al-Adha

Updated 01 July 2022

Congo virus threat looms in southwest Pakistan ahead of Eid Al-Adha

  • Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province reported four cases of Congo virus in the month of June
  • Cattle markets being fumigated to curb virus spread, animals vaccinated against lumpy skin disease

QUETTA: The number of Congo virus cases could rise in the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan ahead of Eid Al-Adha, a top health official said on Friday, weeks after the province reported four cases of the virus. 

Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever, or Congo virus, is an infectious disease transmitted by ticks to humans and animals. These ticks can be found on the skin of goats, sheep, cows, buffalos and camels that are sacrificed by Muslims during the Islamic festival of Eid Al-Adha. 

The disease, which is still endemic in Africa and parts of Asia, has a high fatality rate of 10-40 percent, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

This undated file photo shows the premises of the Fatima Jinnah Chest Hospital in Quetta, in Pakistan's Balochistan province. (Photo courtesy: social media)

Balochistan last month reported at least 16 suspected cases of the virus, of which four people tested positive who were treated at the Fatima Jinnah Chest Hospital in the provincial capital of Quetta.  

"Sixteen suspicious Congo cases were brought to the Fatima Jinnah Hospital. Two of them were in critical condition who were discharged in the last week of June," Dr Saqiq Baloch, the hospital's medical superintendent, told Arab News. 

"Following the imminent threat of Congo, we are prepared to handle any emergency-like situation and have urged livestock officials to fumigate cattle markets with anti-Congo spray." 

Just like elsewhere in the Muslim world, people have been preparing for Eid Al-Adha, one of the two biggest religious festivals in the Islamic calendar, and buying animals to offer as sacrifice. 

With the influx of livestock traders from Sindh and Punjab provinces, the threat of a spread of Congo virus and other diseases has also increased in Balochistan. 

The Balochistan Livestock Department has intensified fumigation across the province against the Congo virus and deputed teams at entrances to the province to check and administer lumpy skin disease (LSD) vaccines to animals. 

“A total of 8,150 cases of LSD have been reported in many districts of the province, particularly those bordering Sindh and Punjab, since the outbreak was first reported in Pakistan,” said Dr Jumma Babar, director of the Balochistan Animal Health Department. 

"The Animal Health Department has started a mass vaccination campaign in Lasbela, Uthal and Jaffarabad districts that has been effective in controlling the spread of the disease." 

Prevalent in Africa since 1929, LSD is transmitted by bloodsucking insects like ticks and mosquitoes. It does not affect people and is rarely fatal. In Pakistan, LSD was first reported in animals in the Punjab province in October 2021. 

Khuda Buksh, 40, who came to main cattle market in Quetta to buy animals, said previously they only heard of the Congo virus, but this Eid season they have been hearing about LSD too, which is why a majority people are buying small animals. 

“We have seen people splashing spray on animals in the market and hope this would be helpful in eradicating the disease among sacrificial animals,” Buksh told Arab News. 

Muhammad Yousuf, a 38-year-old trader who brought with him 35 cattle from Sindh's Jacobabad district, said they await customers throughout the day, but a majority of people is interested in buying goats and sheep instead of cows and buffaloes. 

“We haven’t heard about this animal pox disease before, but many customers here keenly observe the cattle skin. This would impact our business this Eid season,” Yousuf said. 

Indian court orders BJP spokeswoman to 'apologise to whole nation' over anti-Islam remarks

Updated 01 July 2022

Indian court orders BJP spokeswoman to 'apologise to whole nation' over anti-Islam remarks

  • Anger engulfed Islamic world last month after Nupur Sharma's incendiary comments during a TV debate
  • Nearly 20 countries called in their Indian ambassadors for explanation, rallies erupted around South Asia

NEW DELHI: A ruling party spokeswoman whose remarks on Islam embroiled India in a diplomatic row and sparked huge protests should apologize for having “set the country on fire,” New Delhi’s top court said Friday. 

Anger engulfed the Islamic world last month after Nupur Sharma’s incendiary comments during a TV debate on the relationship between the Prophet Muhammad and his youngest wife, with nearly 20 countries calling in their Indian ambassadors for an explanation. 

Rallies also erupted around South Asia, with police killing two demonstrators in India, while this week two Muslim men were accused of the grisly murder of a Hindu tailor who had posted in support of Sharma on Facebook. 

“She and her loose tongue have set the country on fire,” India’s Supreme Court said during a procedural hearing on several criminal complaints filed against Sharma. 

“This lady is single-handedly responsible for what is happening in the country,” it added. “She should apologize to the whole nation.” 

Since her comments, Sharma has been subjected to multiple police complaints filed against her across India by members of the public. 

While the 37-year-old’s whereabouts are unknown, her lawyer was in court asking that the cases be consolidated in New Delhi, a request denied Friday. 

Sharma was at one time seen as a rising star in the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but her remarks forced it into damage control. 

The party soon suspended the spokeswoman from her post and issued a statement insisting it respected all religions. 

Since coming to power nationally in 2014, the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of championing discriminatory policies toward followers of the Islamic faith. 

Critics also say the government has presided over a crackdown on free speech and rights activists. 

This week police arrested the Muslim journalist Mohammed Zubair, a vocal critic of the government who had helped draw attention to Sharma’s remarks. 

He was arrested on Monday and remains in custody over a four-year-old tweet about a Hindu god that police said had been the subject of complaints by Hindu groups.

Pakistan urges caution over Eid holidays as coronavirus cases rise

Updated 01 July 2022

Pakistan urges caution over Eid holidays as coronavirus cases rise

  • Pakistan has had few COVID-19 cases in recent months and had done away with almost all precautions
  • 694 positive cases reported in last 24 hours, nearly double the number at the start of the week on Monday

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Health Minister Abdul Qadir Patel on Friday called on the public to take precautionary measures as coronavirus cases once again rise in the country, calling masks “essential” during the upcoming Eid Al-Adha holiday and urging people not to shake hands and hug.

Pakistan has had very few COVID-19 cases over recent months and had done away with almost all precautions.

But over the past 24 hours, the national COVID positivity ratio had risen to 3.93 percent with 694 positive cases, nearly double the number at the start of the week on Monday, according to data released on Friday by the National Institute of Health, Islamabad (NIH).

“We must take precautionary measures against coronavirus and ensure social distancing,” Patel said in a statement. “Mask wearing is essential during the time of Eid-ul-Adha and avoid going to crowded places.”

The minister appealed to religious scholars to ensure social distancing at mosques and urged the public to avoid hugging and shaking hands during the Eid holidays. 

On Thursday, Pakistan issued fresh standard operating procedures (SOPs) for government office.

The NIH in a notification urged government staffers to avoid shaking hands and mandated wearing face masks and incorporating social distancing in seating plans and during prayers.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif chaired a meeting to take stock of the coronavirus situation urging masses to take precautions against the infection.

Pakistan disbanded the National Command and Operations Center, its main pandemic response body, on March 31 as infections fell to the lowest since the outbreak began in 2020.

However, the South Asian country on May 23 reconstituted the NCOC at the NIH after health officials detected a new omicron sub-variant in a passenger arriving from Qatar. The new sub-variant of omicron is said to be highly infectious, though not as deadly as previous coronavirus strains.

Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) last week once again made it mandatory for all passengers on domestic flights to wear masks. Authorities are also urging eligible individuals to get booster vaccine shots.

There have been 1,536,479 infections and 30,395 coronavirus-related deaths reported in Pakistan since the pandemic began.