Inder singh Gill A Gaint Industrialist
Inder Singh was born on May 9, 1901 in Punjab, India, and educat- ed at the Arya School in Ludhiana. Inder left home in 1921 for East Africa, lured by the tales told by returning Sikhs of opportunities in that far-away land. Many of these returnees had participated in building that epic railway line from Mombasa to Kisumu and then Kampala. Many were known to the Gill family. By this time thousands of people from Guja- rat had gone to Africa as traders. Inder saw his opportunity in the railways. Almost on his arrival he secured a job with the railway ad- ministration in Nairobi and began receiving training as a signaler and telegraphy person. He was ap- pointed as Assistant Station Mas- ter successively at Rungai, Kibos, and Njoro. In Uganda the pay was higher, Uganda being classified as a “hardship station” in those days, malaria being a factor. Inder ap- plied to be transferred there and obtained a post at Mbula Miti and then Busembatia.
After fifteen years of ever-higher positions in the railways, Inder Singh decided it was time to branch out on his own. He took up sugar-cane farming for making
jaggery as a substitute for granu- lated sugar. His forte was of course in the building trades and so he started sawing mvuli logs on a rudimentary basis at Na- kivumbi (Busoga). The great pio- neer Nanji Kalidas Mehta who had by then established in sugar-cane growing on a large scale helped the young Inder with a wood fire boiler which he was replacing. Inder could now boast of being a saw-mill owner. The boast died in his throat as the world was in recession from the stock-market crash in the United States. To com- pound his problems, Inder Singh had also just purchased Kitumbezi Saw Mill from the well-known law- yer, Mr Arthur Bearline. Logs were piling up in the open yard. Came WWII. As they say there’s fortune in every adversity. Prices of timber soared and Inder made a windfall profit from his accumulated stock.
Mr Gill now decided to venture into cotton ginning. The Eastern Province had long become the center of cotton-growing in Ugan- da and Jinja was a logical location to establish the ginnery. This was the start of the Inder Singh Gill industrial empire, headquartered at the Nile’s source. By the 1960s the empire extended to all the East African countries. First he bought a ginnery in Mwanza (the Nasa Ginnery). Second he bought a 7,500 acre estate in Eastern Usum- bara, near Tanga, Tanganyika, for its natural forest. He harvested the wood to feed his three saw mills and from the early fifties a plywood factory at Tanga. He bought up nearby land to plant tea, totaling 1,600 acres. He set up a tea fac- tory. In 1947, Mr Gill was elected chairman of the Hindu Council and served for two years, and remained a life member for many years. It was during his tenure as chairman that India gained inde- pendence and the revered leader Mahatma Gandhi was assassinat- ed. As per the Mahatma’s wishes his ashes were scattered on major sacred rivers of the world. Inder Singh had the honor to do the immersion into the Nile. He laid the foundation and supervised the building of the Hindu Temple at Jinja. In 1949 he built Gill House, a famous landmark in Nairobi. In the late 1950s Inder Singh em- barked on a project of manufac- turing plywood from the indige- nous species, becoming a pioneer in this field. Within a few years he had factories all over East Africa. The demand? Why, from his own tea estates! But son his tea chests supplied the tea industry all the way to the Congo and Mauritius.
On the expulsion Inder Singh Gill concentrated on his businesses in Kenya, particularly in expanding his plywood factory in Moiben near Eldoret.
Inder Singh Gill passed away in 1992. His four daughters and son still maintain close links with Uganda, their birth country.