Dhaka,   Sunday 25 February 2024

The South Asian Times | সাউথ এশিয়ান টাইমস
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Independent  judiciary key to country’s dev: PM

Independent judiciary key to country’s dev: PM

Staff Correspondent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina today said an independent judiciary, strong parliament and administration can take a country towards development. "After coming to power, we have made judiciary totally independent by separating it from the administration in fulfilling the belief of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman," she said while addressing the valedictory session of the two-day International Conference on `South Asian Constitutional Courts in the Twenty-First Century: Lessons from Bangladesh and India` at Bangabandhu International Conference Center (BICC). She said that the government has separated the judiciary from the administration by allocating a separate budget. The Judiciary, she said, was previously dependent on the government for financial matters. The Prime Minister said that the government has announced plans to transform Bangladesh into a smart one by 2041."I want the judiciary to be a smart one." She mentioned various initiatives taken by the Chief Justice to make the judiciary a smart one and thanked him. She also thanked the higher court for their verdict which had declared the 5th and 7th amendments to the Constitution legitimising the military regimes illegal. "This supplemented the country`s socioeconomic advancement since 2009 by ensuring democratic trend of the country. It has been possible as the country has had a stable situation since then," she said. "Through the 15th amendment to the Constitution we have strengthened democracy," she said. Besides, she mentioned that the Awami League government had enacted a law to formulate an independent Election Commission in Bangladesh. She also said the Election Commission was attached to the Prime Minister`s Office earlier. "We have made it (EC) independent completely and allocated separate funds for it," said the prime minister. "That means we believe in the independence of the EC, and the Awami League government can make that happen," she said. The prime minister said that her government has included an article in the Constitution, as per the verdict of the High Court, making illegal grabbing of state power a punishable offence. "By this inclusion, I can say, the basic rights of the people, democratic right, have been protected," she said. Hasina said that Bangladesh has achieved recognition as a developing country effective from 2026. "Inshallah, by 2041, we will be able to make Bangladesh a developed and prosperous country [Golden Bangladesh] to materialise the ideals of the father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman," she asserted. Chief Justice of Bangladesh Justice Obaidul Hassan, Chief Justice of India Justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Anisul Huq and Justice M. Enayetur Rahim of Appellate Division also spoke at the programme.

Quader blames BNP for backing syndicates to hike commodity prices

Quader blames BNP for backing syndicates to hike commodity prices

Staff Correspondent The BNP is sponsoring and supporting the hoarders and syndicates to create an anarchic situation regarding commodity prices, Awami League (AL) General Secretary and Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader said yesterday. He said this at a press conference at the political office of the Awami League president at Dhanmondi in the capital. "BNP nurtured the syndicate. It patronised the hoarders. Would it be wrong to say so? Those who are doing these activities are the old syndicates created by BNP," he said. Noting that the past BNP-led government was a business-oriented one, he said AL did not come to do business here. There is no reason to think that the government has given up on controlling commodity prices, he said, adding that the evil forces which are trying to hatch conspiracies by hiking commodity prices and dissatisfying the common people to foil the ruling government`s schemes will not be spared in anyway. The AL general secretary said the government is providing enough subsidy on electricity. "The government wants to reduce this subsidy gradually. That is why coordination has become necessary. If we want to maintain the electricity facility, then we have to make the adjustment," he added. Obaidul Quader said while BNP was in power, it increased the price of electricity nine times in five years. Even, people suffered 18 hours load-shedding a day, he added. Mentioning that the AL government has given cent percent electricity, he said during the government of Sheikh Hasina, the power generation capacity has increased to 29,700 thousand megawatts. About the statements of BNP leaders that "BNP will bring back democracy and the government will definitely fall in this movement", he said an election has been held in the country recently where BNP did not participate. Instead of taking part in the polls, BNP carried out terrorist activities in the name of movement, he said. "With their arson terrorism, they have again shown that BNP can play a terrible role in the name of movement," Quader said. He said BNP failed in the past as people did not support this party. Noting that BNP is doing wrong and negative politics, he said someday, BNP men will surely admit that they are wrong in carrying out this movement. "The biggest mistake of BNP is not participating in the elections," he added. Obaidul Quader said even though BNP do not participate in the upazila elections as a party, the grassroots leaders will join the election to protect their existence. "We are not participating in polls [upazila elections] with party symbols. In such a situation, many of the BNP will join it as independent candidates," he said. Stating that there is a crisis in the economy at present, the bridges minister said the government is not responsible for it. As the war is expanding in world, the effect on the economy is natural, he said, adding that thus, prices of goods are increasing. "But the government is working diligently to keep the prices within the purchasing power of the people. The prime minister has instructed the ministries and everyone is working in light of it," he said. Regarding the news published in the media about the huge wealth of a former minister of the government abroad, he said no one involved in corruption would be exempted even if he or she is a minister.Staff Correspondent The BNP is sponsoring and supporting the hoarders and syndicates to create an anarchic situation regarding commodity prices, Awami League (AL) General Secretary and Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader said yesterday. He said this at a press conference at the political office of the Awami League president at Dhanmondi in the capital. "BNP nurtured the syndicate. It patronised the hoarders. Would it be wrong to say so? Those who are doing these activities are the old syndicates created by BNP," he said. Noting that the past BNP-led government was a business-oriented one, he said AL did not come to do business here. There is no reason to think that the government has given up on controlling commodity prices, he said, adding that the evil forces which are trying to hatch conspiracies by hiking commodity prices and dissatisfying the common people to foil the ruling government`s schemes will not be spared in anyway. The AL general secretary said the government is providing enough subsidy on electricity. "The government wants to reduce this subsidy gradually. That is why coordination has become necessary. If we want to maintain the electricity facility, then we have to make the adjustment," he added. Obaidul Quader said while BNP was in power, it increased the price of electricity nine times in five years. Even, people suffered 18 hours load-shedding a day, he added. Mentioning that the AL government has given cent percent electricity, he said during the government of Sheikh Hasina, the power generation capacity has increased to 29,700 thousand megawatts. About the statements of BNP leaders that "BNP will bring back democracy and the government will definitely fall in this movement", he said an election has been held in the country recently where BNP did not participate. Instead of taking part in the polls, BNP carried out terrorist activities in the name of movement, he said. "With their arson terrorism, they have again shown that BNP can play a terrible role in the name of movement," Quader said. He said BNP failed in the past as people did not support this party. Noting that BNP is doing wrong and negative politics, he said someday, BNP men will surely admit that they are wrong in carrying out this movement. "The biggest mistake of BNP is not participating in the elections," he added. Obaidul Quader said even though BNP do not participate in the upazila elections as a party, the grassroots leaders will join the election to protect their existence. "We are not participating in polls [upazila elections] with party symbols. In such a situation, many of the BNP will join it as independent candidates," he said. Stating that there is a crisis in the economy at present, the bridges minister said the government is not responsible for it. As the war is expanding in world, the effect on the economy is natural, he said, adding that thus, prices of goods are increasing. "But the government is working diligently to keep the prices within the purchasing power of the people. The prime minister has instructed the ministries and everyone is working in light of it," he said. Regarding the news published in the media about the huge wealth of a former minister of the government abroad, he said no one involved in corruption would be exempted even if he or she is a minister.

Delegation from US National Security Council, State Department, USAID in Dhaka

Delegation from US National Security Council, State Department, USAID in Dhaka

Diplomatic Correspondent Eileen Laubacher, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for South Asia, US National Security Council (NSC); Michael Schiffer, USAID Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Asia; and Afreen Akhter, US Department of State Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, are in Dhaka on a three-day visit.  The three principals will discuss with the government of Bangladesh ways to "strengthen diplomatic ties, address challenges, and promote a shared vision for the advancement of mutual interests in the Indo-Pacific region."  The US Embassy in Dhaka on Saturday welcomed the delegation from Washington DC. Their visit will also include meetings with youth activists and civil society leaders, labor organizers, and those engaged in developing a free and uncensored media, said the US Embassy. Foreign Minister Dr Hasan Mahmud on Thursday said that the Bangladesh-US relations would further be deepened and widened with the visit of the US officials. The foreign minister also said the letter sent by US President Joe Biden to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is important to take forward the relations between the two countries. After the January 7 election, the US in a statement on January 8 said, "Looking ahead, the United States remains committed to partnering with Bangladesh to advance our shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, to supporting human rights and civil society in Bangladesh, and to deepening our people-to-people and economic ties."

Cyber security in Bangladesh: Existing threats and the way forward

Bangladesh has undergone a rapid digitalization process over the previous decades. According to the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC), the country currently contains more than 126.1 million internet users. However, the process of digitalization has coincided with increasing cyber security challenges for the country. The Cyber Security & Infrastructure Security Agency of the United States (US) defines cybersecurity as “the art of protecting networks, devices, and data from unauthorized access or criminal use and the practice of ensuring confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information.” Thus, ensuring cyber security is highly critical for both the national security of Bangladesh and personal security of Bangladeshi people. Bangladesh’s extensive efforts to enhance its cyber security have propelled it to become the most cyber-secure state in South Asia. Yet, the country continues to face a host of cyber security challenges. Existing Threats to Bangladesh’s Cyber Security: At present, Bangladesh faces regular and persistent threats to its cyber security. Some of the common vulnerabilities of Bangladeshi cyberspace include: attacks on banks and non-bank financial institutions (NBFIs), financial scams, theft of information, phishing, hacking of social media accounts, the spread of misinformation, hate speech etc. These vulnerabilities threaten government’s security and economy as well as citizen’s life, honour and property. On the financial front, Bangladeshi banks, NBFIs, and mobile financial services (MFS) face serious cyber security threats. For instance, the highly vulnerable banking sector in Bangladesh deals with approximately 630 cyber-attacks daily with most of these attacks originating from abroad. Most of these attacks originate from abroad. 24% of these attacks originate from China, 13% from North Korea, 12% from Russia, and 7% each from the US and Pakistan. In addition, a host of other cyber-crimes are prevalent across cyberspace, including scams related to MFS services, illegal betting, multi-level marketing (MLM) capitalizing cryptocurrency, cyber extortion, cyber vandalism, and various types of scams. The advent of online illegal betting with surrogate marketing strategy and tele-phishing to exploit MFS and credit card services have also become more frequent that is affecting the common people. Many government and non-government institutions face high-level cyber security threats, with their data (such as birth certificates, National Identity Cards (NIDs), driving licenses, and passports) storages being targeted by hackers. Moreover, private companies and non- government organizations (NGOs) often have relatively weaker protection against cyber- attacks. Also, the sharing of user data with third parties by non-government institutions are also creating cyber security threats as data are being used for malicious intent. According to the Cybercrime Awareness Foundation (CAF), 75% of the victims of cyber- crimes in Bangladesh are aged between 18 and 30. In 2022, cyber-bullying accounted for 52.21% of all reported cyber-crimes in Bangladesh. In addition, a number of other cyber- crimes, including illegal betting, pornography, cyber scams, and frauds related to MFS, affect people on a large scale. Most Bangladeshi citizens lack cyber awareness, technological adaptability, and preparedness to deal with such cyber threats. Moreover, infrastructural disadvantages, jurisdictional limits, and lack of monitoring of the dark web hinder the government`s efforts to deal effectively with these threats. Also, the emergence of end-to-end encryption technologies has made it hard to apprehend those who are involved in cyber-crimes and cyber-terrorism. Terrorist organizations are extensively using encryption technology to remain unmonitored. They are also operating in social media for spreading extremist propaganda, and new recruitment. The lack of monitoring of dark web further facilitates their activities. As dark web largely remains out of monitoring, terrorist outfits use this space to hold conferences and meetings. For example, banned Bangladeshi extremist organization, Hizbut Tahrir uses dark web for holding seminars. Transaction through crypto-currency is another concern for counter terrorism effort. Unanimous transaction through crypto-currency helps terrorist organizations to bypass traditional financial monitoring system and helps terror financing to move beyond the border. An arrest of two militants in 2019 and subsequent interrogation revealed that Ansar Al Islam and Ansarullah Bangla Team have been using bitcoin for years to channel their finance. Besides, the latest use of deep fakes in disinformation campaign and misuse of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has also added new challenges to the country’s cyber security. Thus, the country faces a plethora of cyber security challenges. Efforts to Tackle the Cyber Security Challenges: Public and private banks including other financial institutions have undertaken a number of measures to ensure their cyber security. These institutions have formed Cyber Security Unit (CSU), employed cybersecurity specialists, installed Security Operations Centre (SOC) and undertaken measures to comply Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) certification. These measures also include the formulation of information security policy, the creation of computer incident response teams (CIRT), the training of personnel and the recruitment of skilled manpower. On 11 March 2014, the government introduced the National Cybersecurity Strategy (NCS), which serves as a framework for the organization and prioritization of the efforts to protect Bangladeshi cyberspace and its critical information infrastructure (CII). Based on the Global Cybersecurity Agenda (GCA), the NCS seeks to create a safe cyberspace through the implementation of legal, technical-procedural, and organizational measures. On 13 September 2023, Bangladesh’s national parliament approved the Cyber Security Act (CSA) to provide the country with a strong legal framework for ensuring protection from cyber- crimes. In line with the NCS, the government created the Bangladesh e-Government Computer Incident Response Team (BGD e-Gov CIRT) in February 2016 and established the CT (Counter Terrorism) -Cyber Crime Investigation under the Dhaka Metropolitan Police in May 2016. Also, cyber-crime units are enmeshed in different branches of the Bangladesh Police and the Bangladesh Armed Forces. Government has established National Cyber Security Agency (NCSA) to further enhance national cyber security in November 2023.  Moreover, the government has conducted several campaigns to create awareness among the population about cyber-security. Cyber security has been given priority where Information and communication Technology (ICT) is already introduced in the curriculum of school and colleges. Law enforcement agencies and defense services have been provided with specialized training. Thus, Bangladesh has undertaken stringent measures to ensure cyber security. However, numerous financial, organizational, and individual challenges to cyber security still persist in the country. Hence, the country should further strengthen its efforts to protect its cyberspace which can be exposed to greater threats considering the revolution of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) based technologies and emergence of crypto currency. The Way Forward: To begin with, based on the NCS, the country should develop a rigorous and meticulous mechanism like developing and deploying squad of cyber security experts and carry out periodical external as well as internal countrywide information security (IS) audit. It can also invest in DarkLabs, an elite team of security researchers, penetration testers, reverse engineers, network analysts, data scientists and underground white hackers dedicated to safeguard cyber-attacks before they materialize. They would advance the understanding of cyber security threats, develop countermeasures, take down malicious infrastructure and intensify preparation, prevention, and recovery efforts. Then, the country should initiate the process for the establishment of an information-sharing mechanism with neighbouring and friendly countries to facilitate international cooperation on cyber-crimes. Also, the country should undertake necessary political and diplomatic measures for synchronizing cyber security regulations with other countries to apprehend transnational cyber criminals. In addition, NCSA should include representative from all law enforcement agencies. Moreover, the country should explore the opportunity to bring the dark web under government monitoring system. After that, CII, financial and NBFI institutions should undertake stringent measures to enhance their cybersecurity. These may include the employment of cybersecurity experts, higher training of their personnel in dealing with cybersecurity threats, enforcing SOCs, performing Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing (VAPT) by expert ethical hackers, strengthening of authentication systems and conducting regular IS audit etc. Furthermore, all government and non-government organizations must have cyber security policy, use no other than licenced software, and strengthen cyber security regulations to make. Most importantly, vetting of the personnel of government sophisticated organizations should be carried out periodically. Lastly, the government should have a long-term plan for the enhancement of cyber security including the application of AI which can play a pivotal role in securing the IoT by enabling real-time threat detection. It should undertake measures to develop cyber-threat assessment capability at the user level by promoting cyber hygiene among the population against common and recurring cyber threats such as illegal betting, scams, and cryptocurrency- related fraud. To increase the technological adaptability and preparedness of the mass users, `Safe Internet` program in the curriculum ensuring online safety education to all educational institutions should be introduced. In the 21st century, cyber security has emerged as an integral part of national security across the world, and Bangladesh is no exception. As the agenda of building a „digital" and „smart" Bangladesh moves forward, the minimization of cyber security threats becomes a greater priority for the country. Hence, in accordance with its national strategy, Bangladesh should undertake measures to bolster its cyber security, develop a national culture of cyber security, and strengthen its cyber security institutions to ensure a secure cyberspace for the nation. The writer is a military officer. 

Report: 13,000 Bangladeshis brave Mediterranean risks for European dream

Reports frequently emerge of Bangladeshis disappearing or perishing while attempting to cross the perilous Mediterranean Sea in pursuit of a better life in Europe. This perilous journey not only exposes Bangladeshi youth to inhumane conditions and brutal treatment but also subjects them to life-threatening risks in their quest for a brighter future on the continent. Records from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, indicate that approximately 13,000 Bangladeshis undertook the hazardous journey across the sea and successfully reached Italy last year.  The preceding year saw about 15,000 Bangladeshis attempting the same route. The Ministry of Home Affairs identifies three districts – Cox`s Bazar, Mymensingh and Jessore – as major hubs for illegal immigration and human trafficking. The government is now considering the establishment of additional special tribunals in districts with high incidences of cases under the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act. Recently, on February 15, a boat fire off the coast of Tunisia claimed the lives of eight Bangladeshis en route to Europe. Authorities rescued 27 Bangladeshis from the boat, and the Bangladesh mission in Libya said five of the eight deceased had been from Rajoir upazila of Madaripur. Earlier, on November 3, 30 Bangladeshis, including a minor, were rescued from the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean by a rescue ship of the charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF). The rescued people said they had reached Libya`s capital Tripoli via Bahrain and Istanbul by plane from Bangladesh.  Before the voyage, they said, they had to spend three to four days in captivity. Other than lacking food and water, they said they had to endure torture as well. This ordeal is a familiar experience for many who manage to reach Europe or are rescued from boats during their perilous journey. UN data Last year 157,651 people crossed the Mediterranean to reach Italy, according to data from UNHCR.  As many as 12,774 of them were Bangladeshis, making them the fourth most common nationalities of sea arrivals. In the previous year, 14,971 Bangladeshis tried to enter Italy by sea. In 2023, the number of people who went missing or died on the journey is 1,897 – the highest since 2018. On the other hand, 270,180 people tried to enter European countries by sea and 3,760 of them went missing or died in the process. It is believed that there were hundreds of Bangladeshis among them. UNHCR data says those who try to reach Italy by sea from Libya are mostly citizens of Bangladesh, Egypt or Syria. In December, authorities detained around 1,300 people while they were crossing Italy`s northern border with Slovenia. UNHCR reported over 12,000 entries through the area in 2023, many of them being citizens of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Preferred route for traffickers UNHCR reports seven routes utilized for illegal entry into Europe, all originating from Libya or Turkey. Among these, the Central Mediterranean route stands out as the most popular choice. Illegal migrants perceive it as relatively "safe" for crossing from Libya to Italy. Influenced by assurances from brokers, Bangladeshis spend significant sums to reach Libya or Turkey, marking the initial phase of their journey to Europe. Brokers demand Tk10-Tk15 lakh upfront as the cost of passage to Europe, often subjecting migrants to physical abuse for additional funds after their journey commences. Human trafficking hotspots  The home ministry’s Public Security Division in its National Plan of Action Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking for 2023-25 updated on December 31 identifies three districts as hotspots for human trafficking: Cox`s Bazar, Mymensingh and Jessore. The report highlights around 3,700 pending cases related to human trafficking, involving approximately 34,500 accused individuals. October 2022 saw the publication of the first national research report on human trafficking in the country, initiated by the government. It mentions a large number of human trafficking cases filed with the courts and police across the country. Despite efforts such as the establishment of anti-trafficking tribunals across seven divisions and the enactment of the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act, challenges persist in bringing cases to trial and securing convictions. Why is human trafficking not going down? According to the Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2020 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Bangladesh is susceptible to human trafficking owing to the economic challenges faced by its population.  Despite a significant reduction in poverty rates – by approximately 30% from the early 1990s to the late 2010s – many individuals in rural areas continue to grapple with limited economic prospects, remaining below the poverty line.  Traffickers exploit this vulnerability by enticing those living in impoverished conditions with the prospect of higher earning opportunities in North America, Europe and the Middle East, as outlined in the report. What do experts have to say? Dr Mohammad Jalal Uddin Sikder, immigration expert and professor at North South University, stressed the importance of raising awareness among immigrants and engaging in discussions with relevant stakeholders both domestically and internationally. He emphasized the need to research why individuals were discontent and taking significant risks to migrate abroad. Dr Sikder called for holding brokers accountable and conducting dialogues with the governments of countries where trafficking operations were prevalent, particularly mentioning transit points such as Libya, Turkey and Dubai.  He emphasized the importance of informing immigrants that legal migration coupled with proper training offered more opportunities for respectable earnings and a sense of security. Meanwhile, a senior official at home ministry underscored Bangladesh’s zero-tolerance stance on illegal immigration, mentioning the government`s collaboration with national and international organizations, civil society and the United Nations to prevent and combat human trafficking.  “The government is also trying to reach out to every victim and hold every perpetrator accountable in line with the current national action plan,” the official said, requesting anonymity.  The official went on to say that the heinous crime of human trafficking had trapped women, men and children in various forms of exploitation inside and outside the country. “The national action plan gives special emphasis to addressing these factors. Since coming to power, the government has been making earnest efforts to prevent all forms of human trafficking.” State Minister for Ministry of Expatriates` Welfare and Overseas Employment Shafiqur Rahman Chowdhury said the government was making efforts to prevent illegal migrations to Europe. “My request to all – do not try to go abroad illegally.” 

Raushan: Quader, Chunnu relieved from posts, not from party

Raushan Ershad, chairperson of a faction of the Jatiya Party (JaPa), on Friday said GM Quader and Mujibul Haque Chunnu have been relieved from their posts, not removed from the party.  "Their failure brought catastrophe to the party in the January 7 election. They will represent the party in parliament. I hope they can prove their worth there", she said at a views-exchange meeting with Jatiya Mahila Party leaders in Gulshan in the afternoon. Raushan Ershad said: "There is no disagreement among the activists who are loyal to former president HM Ershad. Those who want to erase him can remain separate. I cannot humiliate the party in any way.” She also said: “I brought back those who were exempted or expelled under the flag left behind by Pallibandhu [Ershad].” Raushan said: "The women leaders of the party have spoken about their pain and anger. Today, I have to take the responsibility as the chairman of the party to relieve the pain of countless leaders and workers of the party.” She also said that qualified leadership will take charge of the national council of the party on March 9. On the other hand, GM Quader has called a joint meeting with the Presidium members and parliamentarians on March 2. On January 28, Raushan declared herself the chairman of the party, relieving GM Quader and Chunnu from their posts amid growing resentment among the party rank and file over its debacle in the parliamentary election. However, GM Quader said he did not see the possibility of the party splitting.  Earlier, GM Quader relieved the party’s co-chairman, Syed Abu Hossain Babla, from the party, apparently for lending his support to Raushan. GM Quader also removed some senior leaders, including Kazi Firoz Rashid, from the party.

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India Hosts 6th Session of the International Solar Alliance Assembly in New Delhi

India Hosts 6th Session of the International Solar Alliance Assembly in New Delhi

The Sixth Assembly of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) convened in New Delhi today, presided over by Raj Kumar Singh, Minister of Power and New & Renewable Energy, Government of India, who serves as the President of the ISA Assembly. Ministers from 20 countries and delegates representing 116 Member and Signatory countries gathered for this important event, according to a press release. In his opening remarks, Raj Kumar Singh emphasized the crucial role of renewable energy sources in addressing global energy challenges. He stated that renewable energy has the potential to supply 65 percent of the world`s total electricity by 2030 and decarbonize 90 percent of the power sector by 2050. The International Solar Alliance is committed to making solar energy the preferred energy source, attracting investments, and ensuring ample energy availability to meet growing global demands. To support this, ISA has expanded its Viability Gap Funding (VGF) mechanism, increasing the grant to 35% of the project cost based on the capacity and needs of member countries. Co-President of the Assembly, Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, France`s Minister of State for Development, Francophonie, and International Partnerships, emphasized France`s commitment to the ISA. France has provided significant financial support for solar projects, including the construction of the Onigbolo solar power plant in Benin, bringing 25 megawatts of clean energy to the people of Benin. She emphasized the importance of supporting partner countries in their energy transition plans, said the release. Dr Ajay Mathur, Director General of the International Solar Alliance, stressed the need to accelerate the deployment of solar energy, particularly in developing countries and for applications that enhance the daily lives of those without reliable energy access. ISA is facilitating over 9.5 GW of solar applications in 55 developing countries and providing training to thousands of people in supporting solar energy. The organization is working on establishing STAR Centers as hubs of technology, knowledge, and expertise in solar energy, it said. The Assembly also discussed the ISA`s initiatives, including the development of solar mini-grids to provide universal energy access and mechanisms to attract private sector investment through guarantees provided by the Global Solar Facility. In May 2020, ISA initiated Demonstration Projects in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to showcase scalable solar technology applications and build the capacity of beneficiary member countries. Four projects, including solarization of the parliament building of the Republic of Malawi, solarization of health care centers in Fiji, installation of solar-powered cold storage in Seychelles, and solarization of a school in Kiribati, were inaugurated, it added. Singh dedicated these projects to the respective countries, highlighting ISA`s commitment to advancing the cause of energy transition through solar energy. The Assembly serves as the apex decision-making body of ISA and meets annually to assess the progress of solar energy deployment and discuss key initiatives related to energy access, energy security, and energy transition. The Sixth Assembly of the International Solar Alliance demonstrated the commitment of member countries to harnessing solar energy to address global energy and environmental challenges, the release also said.

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