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RPT-Indian startups ask antitrust body to order Google to restore apps after 'brazen' move

(Repeats earlier story with no changes to text)

By Aditya Kalra

NEW DELHI, March 4 (Reuters) - A group representing Indian startups has asked the country's antitrust watchdog to order Alphabet Inc's Google to reinstate apps it removed for policy violations, a letter seen by Reuters shows, escalating a showdown with the U.S. giant in a key market.

Google on Friday removed more than 100 Indian apps, including popular ones by Matrimony.com, for not complying with its policy of paying a service fee when in-app payment options other than Google's are used.

The startups have now taken the issue to Competition Commission of India (CCI). The Commission has already spent months looking into startups' complaint that Google is not following a 2022 antitrust directive that prevents it from taking adverse measures against companies which use alternate billing systems. Google denies wrongdoing.

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The Alliance of Digital India Foundation (ADIF) in its March 1 letter to the CCI said Google's decision to remove apps was a "brazen move" which was anti-competitive and the regulator should ask the company to reverse its decision.

Google's move will cause "irreparable harm to the entire market", ADIF said in the letter, which is not public.

Google declined to comment on the letter. ADIF and CCI did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The app removal has sparked criticism from Indian companies, many of which have been at odds with Google for years and criticised its practices. Google, which says it is in compliance, has maintained its in-app fee helps develop and promote the Android and Play Store ecosystem.

The dispute centres on efforts by some Indian startups to stop Google from imposing a fee of 11%-26% on in-app payments, after the country's antitrust authorities ordered it not to enforce an earlier fee of 15%-30%.

India's IT minister on Saturday said such removal of apps by Google "cannot be permitted".

Startup executives on Monday met India's deputy IT minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar who told them he was concerned by the removal of the apps and that his ministry will write to Google to ensure they are reinstated, according to two people familiar with the talks.

Chandrasekhar later wrote on X that he will take up the matter with Google "for a sustainable and long-term solution". (Reporting by Aditya Kalra in New Delhi and Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)